‘The Philosophy of Gift-giving. It’s all how you look at it.’
One of the few times I saw my mother weep was one Christmas when she opened a gaily-wrapped package only to discover that my well-meaning father had given her an electric toothbrush. “It’s the latest thing,” he protested as he tried to comfort her. It didn’t help when he pointed out that it came with different heads, one for each member of our family.
Poor Dad. He was one of those well-meaning people who give gifts that they really want. He loved gadgets; ergo, Mom got gadgets. I think it was the next Christmas that he gave her the electric knife.
My Mom later told us about a Christmas when she was very little — a Christmas when she really really wanted roller skates. There was a largish, heavyish roller-skate-appropriate box under the tree that looked promising. But her Uncle Warren Who Liked To Tease (didn’t everyone have one of these?) kept telling her it was a hair ribbon. Poor Mom.
Ah, Gift-Giving. When kids are little, it’s relatively easy. Well, unless you promise roller skates and have a Teasing Uncle around. Pretty much anything that’s wrapped — and can be messily unwrapped — will fill the bill. The Dude and I got away with gift-giving murder, since Other People — like Aunts, Uncles, and Grandparents — would buy her so many books, toys and kiddie clothes that we didn’t really need to. Sometimes, though, just to round things out, we would wrap any old thing we had lying around and stuff it into her stocking — a wooden spoon famously comes to mind — because it really was all about the unwrapping.
Even Adults can get into the anything-goes-as-long-as-its-wrapped idea. One time The Dude’s sister gave me a beautifully-wrapped present that contained fake grape leaves. When I asked a polite version of “What the hell are these?” The Sister replied that they came from Williams-Sonoma and were for placing under your different cheese selections when you made up a cheese platter. Oh.
Another famous Whitmore Christmas featured new underwear for all. (Each package was, of course, wrapped.) Once unwrapped, we were inspired to immediately model them.
Those underpants have long since lost their elastic and their places in our underwear drawers. But their hilarity, like that of the fake grape leaves, lives on in our collective memory. Though I’m pretty sure the grape leaves, like the Fruitcake In the Big Round Tin, got regifted.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that, as the years have gone by, we’ve tried to de-emphasize the gifts themselves and focus on memory-making. Besides, like many long-married couples, The Dude and I pretty much just buy what we need/want when we need/want it. And when Christmas rolls around, we tell each other we are “not giving each other any presents”, since “the Trip to the Amazon (or to Italy or to Panama or to England to Visit The Child) was our present.” That trip cost money, after all, and we made a memory.
But just try honoring that vow as Christmas gets close. We didn’t even have a tree this year, but still felt we had to have some stuff to unwrap not under it. And let me tell you, The Dude, even more than many other men, including my father, is especially Hard to Buy Gifts For. His Other Sister once gave him a green rugby shirt, which he really liked and wore all the time. He liked it so much that the next Christmas she asked me to find out if he’d like another one, maybe red this time. When I asked, he said “Why do I need another rugby shirt? I already have one.”
But I did discover An Easy Out. He loves birds, so, like on that show ‘Portlandia’, when in gift-giving doubt I “stick a bird on it”. This Christmas (which we celebrated early to take advantage of the fact that The Child Was Home) I got him a Bird Book. Done.
The Child? She’s long past the rip-and-tear stage, but she’s also long past the give-her-some-money-as-the-easy-way-out stage, which makes her a particularly tricky Gift Target. (Though I personally have never heard anyone complain that their gift of money was “too big”.) So I applied some emotional pressure by giving her something I Had Made For Her Myself With My Own Hands.
As for me, I’m just happy to have my Family happy and healthy and home. But the Facial From The Salon on Park Avenue (Thanks, Child!) and The Piece of Jewelry From Tiffany (Thanks, Dude!) certainly don’t hurt.
Merry (Early) Christmas to all, and to all a Happy Tuesday!
New York City. December 2017