In the early days of liberated consciousness—
1967, to be exact—
I was cashier in a shop of imported
goods. One cargo included hand-carved
wooden sculptures from Taiwan
of a hand with upraised middle finger.

This wasn’t the plastic gewgaw
you later saw everywhere, but something
no doubt crafted by carvers with generations
of tradition behind them, who assumed
this strange object had religious
significance for Americans.

One night a little old lady—
since this was Boston, a very Bostonian
old lady—brought six of them
to my counter. “Such lovely ringholders,”
she said, “just the thing
for my grandnephews this Christmas.”

So early in the days of liberated
consciousness—and in Boston besides—
I didn’t know how to tell an old lady
that these items were neither ringholders
nor suitable gifts for her grandnephews.
So I rang them up and bagged them.

Besides, I really enjoyed imagining
Christmas morning in Cambridge, Duxbury,
as one by one they would open
neatly wrapped packages sent
with love by Great-Aunt Prudence.

Drawing by Joseph Yeomans


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