Between Not Enough and Too Much

She invited me to stop at her little shop the next time my grandma and I would drive down to the village. “You come by and pick out what you want.” I could not wait. I had helped at our neighbor’s farm for days and even though I was young, my work and my assistance had been appreciated.

A couple of weeks later, we drove down the Austrian Alp road, our old station wagon loaded with eggs, fresh milk, cheese, and mushrooms, all of which we would sell to the restaurant, stores, and ‘city folks’ who were waiting for our deliveries.

I was fidgeting in my seat, time seemed to stand still. Nothing happened fast enough that day. Finally, we arrived at the little convenient store and when I entered and greeted our neighbor, I felt like I had just stepped into candy heaven. I knew exactly what I wanted, my mind had been made up for days. I went to the back, stopped in front of the candy shelf, and reached for my favorite candy bar.

When I showed it to our neighbor, she shook her head. “That’s not enough for all your hard work, go get something better.”

I knew the candy bar didn’t cost much, I bought it all the time at boarding school when the nuns opened the candy cupboard. If that wasn’t enough then I knew what I wanted instead. My beloved gummy bears, the variety pack the one with gummy bears and licorice. I would get the big bag, so I could share it with my friends in school.

Proud as I could be, I showed her what I had chosen and she shook her head. “Don’t be so modest, you can get what you want.”

Twice I had picked something that I actually liked, but she thought wasn’t enough. Instead of asking her if I could have two, or maybe multiple of the candy I had selected, I put the large bag of gummy bears back as told and studied the shelf.

Lots of pralines and truffles, gifts you bring to special occasions. In the middle, neatly placed, were several boxes full of MOZARTKUGELN, an Austrian specialty, a praline named after the Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a chocolate dream with marzipan, pistachio, and nougat.

A girl in boarding school had once shared a package with her friends and I had tried one for the first time. It had been such a special moment, even months later I could remember the taste. Marzipan and nougat, mixed with the taste of pistachios, a sensation of flavors I love to this day.

I smiled and carefully picked up the shiny box, and again I marched to the front of the store. There I showed her what I had chosen as my payment. “Well child, that’s too much,” she said and I don’t know what confused me more. Her way of sending me back and forth, or the fact that I was told to pick what I wanted, but she seemed to be the one deciding what that had to be.

I blushed. She had scolded me for being greedy and I felt very embarrassed. With cheeks red with shame, and watery eyes, I placed the box with the Mozart pralines beside the register, told her I didn’t want anything, and left her store. I felt so much disappointment. My grandma asked questions, but when I didn’t respond much, she left it alone. Later, I shared what had happened and we talked about it.

Whatever was said that day, or what happened afterward is not important, what matters is that I never forgot about the incident and how it had made me feel. I had felt cheap and the humiliation was something I could not shake off. To this day I have a hard time picking anything when you offer me to choose.

Where exactly is the middle between not enough and too much?

Forty years later, in April 2010

Monday afternoon my phone rang. The young man from the estate sale called and told me their sale had gone well, but they had so much STUFF left and he wanted us to come by and pick out what we needed. “Everything else is going in the dumpster,” he informed me.

We stopped by in the evening and while I could tell that they had sold a lot, so much was still left. The kitchen counter was full, the closets, and the downstairs family room was still filled with crafts, sewing notions, and art supplies.

“Take what you need and want,” and both of them nodded. I felt so torn inside.

“Are you sure?” I asked three or four times until finally my husband had enough and he started rummaging through empty cardboard boxes.

He handed me a bin and slowly I made my way downstairs. At first, I hesitated but then I started packing. Quilting templates, cutting boards, cutters, scissors, patterns. Quickly one box was full, and we started the next one.

Fabric remnants everywhere, more than I would ever need. Yards and yards of quilting fabrics and home decor fabrics. I chose some of the lady’s projects that she couldn’t finish, though it would be nice if I could complete them for her -now that she was gone. Half of the trunk of our monster pickup truck was quickly filled fast with things that would make all my sewing dreams come true.

“There is more upstairs and in her bedroom.” His aunt had loved craftwork and now I was the one who inherited it all. In small closets, I found linens and towels, hand-embroidered guest towels, and placemats for Christmas and Halloween. I picked what I liked and thought we could use.

All this time I felt we took too much, I felt greedy and unsure. One side of me was so happy, the other afraid to come across as greedy. I almost expected them to stop us, but they didn’t, instead, they pointed things out they thought we could use.

“I am glad it all will find a good home and someone will use all of it,” both assured us. I wonder if they knew how grateful we were.

Two or three hours later we left their future home. We shook hands and I asked them to call me if they ever needed something for their new house.

I felt like someone had just handed out Christmas presents and all of them had fallen into our truck. Back at home, we unpacked and lots of the things my husband had packed surprised me. Puzzles, pens, a pencil sharpener, a hole punch for paper, envelopes, tape and so much more. He can be so practical.

Our small desk area in the empty bonus room was quickly filled, the rest we kept in the boxes for a while until we got more furniture.

I was happy but at the same time, it all felt so wrong. I questioned if we had taken too much, even though I knew the rest would end up in the large dumpster. Some things I had thought about taking but had decided not to. I didn’t want to come across as selfish.

Who in the world thinks like that when you are offered something for free? Why could I not shake it off? We had nothing and I was worried about what other people might think of us?

What we experience as children, so often has a tremendous impact. Words and actions can lift you up or tear you down. I didn’t know it then, but the following months would teach me a few valuable lessons about receiving and giving.

What we took from this old house twelve years ago, made a difference in our lives and in other people’s lives.

Every year after Thanksgiving I take out the old red and green Christmas towels I brought home that day and I place them in our bathroom. They don’t match with anything we have, but they will be there to the day we die-or won’t remember anymore, whichever will come first. I iron the Christmas placemats and put them on our side tables in the living room. I don’t like embroidery much, but I cherish these -always will.

Two years ago, when the pandemic lockdown started and everybody in my line of work was called and asked if we could sew facemasks, that’s all the quilting supplies were finally used. Eight hours a day my husband cut fabrics with the rotary cutter I never had use for, and I used most of the old supplies when I sewed the masks together. We used the big plastic cutting board until it was almost shredded in the middle.

So much that has been given to us so freely and so generously can still be found in our home to this day. Sentimental reasons? Perhaps, or maybe a reminder to never forget the time when we had nothing.

I finished projects of a woman who I never knew and learned a lot about sewing when I tried to complete what she had started. She had been a master of her craft, sadly I was not, yet I managed to finish her Halloween vest, with the help of every swearword I know. It’s in my closet, waiting for next Halloween.

22 thoughts on “Between Not Enough and Too Much

  1. I know what you mean about something sticking with you for a long time after, and not knowing why it was said or even I guess why it stuck.

    I will also say, again, that the lord or karma or whatever works in mysterious ways. The best ways are when lessons are learned but even beyond the best is when someone as deserving as you can still find a way to pay it forward.

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  2. What a story from your childhood, Bridget. It’s hard to believe that an adult wouldn’t have been more sensitive to the awkwardness she’d initiated. The stress and embarrassment you felt could (and should) have been avoided. It’s easy to see why such a memory would come back to you in the estate sale opportunity. But it sure did turn out well and I am so glad! Imagine all that wonderful fabric coming to such a good use in the mask making. You have learned a great deal about being resourceful, and we could all stand to do better, I think!

    Liked by 3 people

    • To this day I don’t know what my neighbor was thinking. Her behavior that day haunted me for years, still does. I look around and what I hear and read often scares me. Don’t they know kids are watching and listening? Don’t they know that they are watched?

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  3. A beautiful story. I think this is what living on a minimum for long enough can do to you. It almost feels like when you have lived in struggle for long enough, your brain starts to believe that you cannot possibly deserve any better. I’m glad better things came after, and that all that material was good use, even years later.

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    • We were living very well, until the recession in 2008/2009 hit businesses like ours. We lost everything within a few months and became almost homeless. It took about two years to get ‘our’ life back. There were setbacks and fortunate events. A mix of emotions. Overall I learned a lot by it and I grew.

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  4. I really enjoyed this story, I can relate some to it. I imagine there were so many things to choose from and that can be so hard when you don’t want to come across as being greedy. I loved how everything got used and is still part of your life today.

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  5. What a terrible dilemma for you as a child and it obviously left a lasting scar. I was delighted that 40 years later you were able to overcome that feeling and not only take advantage of someone’s generosity but help them to dispose of unwanted things to enable them to build their new home.

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  6. I was hoping the estate sellers would contact you. I can understand your hesitation, but you really were doing them a favor by taking it. When we have abundance, it does give us the opportunity to be generous to others. Your husband was smart to be practical, too. I am a bargain hunter, so I would have been ecstatic!

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