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No Umbrella*

Last week, when I was walking across campus in the rain, I felt a surge of gratitude for my umbrella. 

Appreciating this ordinary item caused me to reflect on my childhood and youth without umbrellas. And to wonder if it was too great a stretch to see the absence of umbrellas as one more weird family quirk.

I can’t remember having or using an umbrella until I started dating my husband. I don’t remember ever owning or using one myself before that or ever seeing them around our house. I don’t remember my mom or sisters ever using an umbrella. Now that I see how handy they are (all the way across the Case campus without getting wet!), I wonder why.

I see it as symptomatic of my mom’s excessive frugality. Why buy something that you use only occasionally? And I also see it as symptomatic of the odd self-denial in my family.  

My mom complained a lot about not getting her hair done, about needing a new carpet, and about other items she felt she couldn’t afford. My dad would occasionally tell her to go ahead. We can afford it, he would say. He finally purchased our new carpet and bought us a color TV. He was by no means a spendthrift, but he could enjoy buying things.

My mom seemed inclined to deny herself . She seemed to want to maintain her self-image as deprived and poor. Feeling bad, a la BPD, was her default position, and so why buy things to cheer yourself up?

*I stole this title from Laura Paglin’s film about the 2000 election.

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