If I had a Ketchup Bottle for a Lunchbox

I don’t remember ever wanting anything. I didn’t even have to ask.  Those girls in the movies with the pink ruffled curtains and overflowing toys? That’s me.  New clothes came in boxes, not in little shopping bags. My shoes had to always match my clothes. I was surprised my college classmates often repeated their outfits in school.  It was unheard of where I came from. You walk to a store, pick what you want, and carry it to the counter. You don’t hear “NO’s,” only the sound of the cash register. High school and I was nicknamed Christmas tree, I had just too many twinkly jewelry on me.  And I found the nickname amusing. It didn’t help that I grew up in Sugar-land. Where everyone was a son or daughter of a haciendero, and money in the popular Ilonggo adage was: “gina-piko, gina-pala.”

Now I married into a family that was the complete opposite of mine. My husband went to school with his water in a ketchup bottle. Yes, in a ketchup bottle! (His sister was more fortunate, as hers came in the recycled Brown Cow bottle.) He had to wear out his clothes- a pair of jeans, a pair of shoes, a few shirts, that was his closet. Oh they were not poor, and could actually beat any snotty haciendero. But he had to constantly ask for toys, which he never really got, save for the more practical alternative.  

Which brings me to today and a dilemma of having kids to raise under two opposite fences. I can’t imagine sending my children to school with a ketchup bottle.  I won’t have them waiting years to buy their first denim. And I will always agonize about shoes that don’t match the dress (there’s an image to protect, especially among Ilonggo friends.)

So where do I find the common ground between extreme frugality and spoilt-rich snootiness?

I notice how different my husband and I are when dealing with wants.  I often need to get things right away.  I also feel crushed when I don’t get what I want (and will go back with a vengeance.) Then there’s this never-ending desperation for things. Or the house, the outfit, life is not complete.  Conspicuously consume. Nice things come with a nice price tag. And I am a show-off.

Husband on the other hand, is unruffled, more accepting of getting things in due time.  I sometimes think he does not really want anything. His closet is still a tiny mix of very few clothes. When we moved homes, his entire closet could fit in one suitcase. And our friends notice when he has something new, because he really just wears the same outfit each time. He also has a very few pairs of shoes and won’t buy (despite my constant nagging) until the tongues fall out or the holes are too big. And his jewelry is a dive watch, a watch he even wore to our wedding.   

I see now he has the gift of contentment. That’s what the ketchup bottle gave him. I would love to buy my children that. And it’s not the capacity to have what you want. It’s the power of always feeling complete, even without this or that. And these gifts are bequeathed way before they will have the money to buy what they need, or want.

I love my spoilt-rich childhood. But if I thought about it enough, I know that a deprived childhood isn’t mismatched clothes or a lack of decent lunchboxes. Because I don’t even remember my wealth of toys or couture dresses. What I remember most were the clichés. Oysters for Sunday lunch at the beach, the booby traps my brothers made, my first lesson on Orion gazing at stars at night, and countless nights of all five of us jam-packed in one big bed.

So simple pursuits will be the norm for this house. Beach barbecues, the science of booby traps and stars, and crowded mattresses.  Of course, they would have real lunchboxes, I’d do all I can for shoes to match, and denim pants won’t have to be passed on again and again till they’re worn out. I expect, if I gave them a wealth of pursuits, they might not want for anything anyhow. And they won’t even have to ask.

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