I miss my sister.

When we were kids one of the unspoken rules around Christmas was that you could not ask for a specific item. This came from my mother. I think my father would have been fine with a specific wish. It may have been partly due to very little money, but everything was to be a surprise.

One year Chris and I both wanted Barbies. Not just any Barbie. Chris wanted a Ken doll with "real hair", that is, not dyed hard plastic. Hair that could be combed. I wanted a Barbie that had hands that would open and close. She could actually hold items. On a trip to the department store, we took turns distracting our mother so that we could check stock and prices. We both insisted on shopping for the other at that store. My mother sighed and suggested other gifts, but we were adamant. We both scored the wanted item. Mine was more expensive, so the Ken had an additional item added. We wrapped them and acted appropriately surprised on Christmas morning, with the added joy of thinking that we had pulled something off under our mother's nose.

I didn't realize that the "no specific item" rule was not universal until years later when my mother in law wanted to know what I wanted for Christmas.

"A sweater," I said.

"What color?"

"I don't know." It was too ingrained to not be specific. "One with a pattern? Like in LL Bean?"

"Which page? Do you have the November catalog?"

I did. I frantically flipped pages. "Page 47."

"What color?"

It came in three colors. "The black one, please." What luxury, to be able to request exactly what I wanted.

Another time I heard my spouse on the phone with my mother. "Oh, we'd like flannel sheets for Christmas." I was waving frantically at him, motioning cut signs, stop, but he didn't.

"What?" he said, after he hung up. "We do want flannel sheets."

"You don't ask my mother for practical things. Really."

"Too late," he said cheerfully.

We got flannel sheets from my mother. They were red, white and blue plaid. They shed flannel instantly. We washed them and so much flannel came off that the dryer was a snowstorm. We quietly gave them to Goodwill.

Once my mother's mother wanted to give my mother a practical present. "I want to give you a washer," she said. "So you won't have to go to the laundromat."

"A washer!" said my mother, "That's not what I want."

"Well, what do you want?" said my grandmother.

"An emerald ring," said my mother.

My grandmother brought her a small box. "Here is your washer." It had an emerald ring. Not, of course, a specific one.

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