My American Girls
It is the night before the first day of school; the entire house is a bit anxious. Our daughters, 13 and 15 years-old, are selecting outfits with a blend of eagerness and anxiety. Julie and I, both teachers, take turns with the iron and check our lists of first-day necessities. We all mourn the passing of yet another summer in our preparations, memories of a glorious vacation at Camp Skyland receding in the rearview mirror of our lives. I set the American Girl lunch box out on the counter; tomorrow morning a sandwich, an apple, a juice box will complete its purpose.
I’ve chosen the purple one, not the grey. As my students have noted, purple, a color of many attitudes and moods, is the flag of my disposition. Some of my Advanced Placement students have even opened a page on My Space to track and comment on my numerous purple shirts. Maybe they haven’t been assigned enough work.
Yes, this is my lunch; this is now my lunch box. Both of our progeny are now young women; there are no children here. They could never endure the mortification of carrying to school a lunch their father made for them. In this house I, apparently, am the only remaining kid (or a cranky old man, depending on the day and who’s doing the judging). My American Girls are forcing me unwillingly into maturity; by the day I see more clearly what is worth preserving.
I recall being amused as a child by my grandfather’s habitual use of a weathered Girl Scout knife that had been my mother’s. Pop would whittle chunks of bread and sausage with the cast off jetsam he rescued from his own daughter’s adolescence and pop them in his mouth, always chased with a glass of ice water. We found this quaint and amusing, a practice left over from his peasant upbringing on a farm in Austria. A child of poverty and a young adult immigrant suffering through the Depression, he knew the value of preserving resources. But little boys couldn’t help but snicker a bit at a grown man using a little girl’s penknife.
And so, another August fading into memory, the sun rises a little lower to the horizon and ham and cheese on whole wheat gets stuffed into my American Girl lunch box, the purple one – my favorite. Inevitably, some 15 year-old will poke fun at it, but, as I’ve told them before, it takes a real man to use an American Girl lunch box; it takes a real man to preserve the precious things.
Perhaps there is nothing more nostalgic than a middle-aged man watching the most valuable thing he has given his life to grow away from him. Perhaps there is nothing more frugal than a middle-age man watching his meager, ever-more-scarce resources departing with them. If they are to have a future, we need to recycle the useful things of the present and the past.
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