Winner – prose: Ivory

winner-prose-title

 

Ivory

She was all excited when they got home from school.

“I’ve got a new pen pal!” she announced.

Who?

“These students from another school sent our class letters and packages!”

Where are they from?

“Oh, somewhere in the U.S. But just look at what my pen pal sent me!” And the contents were shown with great enthusiasm. A Spacemaker pencil box, some things to fit in the case, a Frisbee, a bar of Ivory soap, and a washcloth. Fun things, useful things, practical things, all of them.

Not wishing to dampen her enthusiasm, I ignored the soap and washcloth, and focused on the rest.

But Ivory has been sitting on the counter in the bathroom for a week now. Still in the wrapper, Ivory has been giving me dirty looks for a week. Did you know that one “personal size” bar wrapper has Ivory written on it 58 times? I counted them, each one granting a small offense.

I’m not sure why I am offended. In fact, I suspect that if it said “Disney” I wouldn’t be insulted at all. But Ivory is practical, the kind of soap I’ve used ever since I discovered it floats. You never lose it in the bathtub, and it’s great on camping trips. None of those stinky perfumes, either. It’s practical, works well, and it’s cheap, too! I’ve been a fan of Ivory for decades!

Until now. Ivory sits there looking at me, and I glare back, unsure of why I find its presence so unsettling.

After bath-time, I ask, “So, did you use your new bar of soap?”

“Uh, no. I forgot about it.”

Of course. The bath-size Ivory that we always use was right there.

I cannot bear it any longer, having Ivory stare at me. The question that has been circling in my brain for a week pops out: “So, what does it mean when someone gives you a washcloth and Ivory soap for a present? I mean, is it a hint, or what?”

“I don’t know,” she answers nonchalantly, completely unconcerned about any hidden implication.

“What would I think if your grandmother sent me a washcloth and Ivory?” I blunder on, convinced someone else should feel offended as well. “Would she be suggesting that I should wash more often?”

Giggles and a little sympathy are all I get in response.

I don’t know why I feel this way about Ivory sitting there on the counter. Is it because it was a present for my daughter, and I’m offended for her? Or is it because all of her classmates at Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota received Ivory as well, and I’m offended for them? Is it because we live in the poorest county in the nation, and I’m offended for all of the residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation?

Or is it because I, too, have packaged up Ivory in kits to send to “those poor people” in Bosnia or Nigeria or Laos without so much as a thought about the implicit message wrapped up around that bar of soap? Ivory is still there, and I cannot bring myself to open the wrapper. I’ll leave it for my daughter to deal with. My skin is more sensitive than hers is!

One of generations of storytellers, Hardy Groening finds inspiration in his daily life journey, and often gives his stories to family and friends in lieu of presents. He and his family lived on Pine Ridge Reservation on MCC assignment from 1998–2001, and he currently coordinates Service Worker, Summerbridge, and international Volunteer Exchange Program for MCC Manitoba. Hardy is a member at Crossroads MB Church, Winnipeg.

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