With the holiday season in full swing, it’s time to focus on giving. Some people have a real knack for picking out that perfect gift. Then there’s my Mom. Now, I love my mom dearly and am very grateful that she’s still alive and doing well in her mid-80s.
However, the holidays bring out a side of my mother that is strange and somewhat horrible. She becomes a bizarro world holiday elf who somehow always manages to select just the wrong gift, but presents it with so much joy and love that it almost – almost – makes up for its innate oddness.
What’s that you say? I’m a terrible, ungrateful daughter? I should be thankful to get anything, it’s the thought that counts, there are starving children who would be grateful. All true, but still….
There was the year, way back in the 1970s, when I unwrapped a box containing a tube top; not just any tube top, but a bright purple one with gold and purple spangles. Understand, I was not a tube top sort of girl. I was a bit overweight at the time, and small busted enough that any stretchy top without straps tended to just slide down and off. Also, it wasn’t exactly my style; at that time I was more into jeans and t-shirts or vintage dresses. I unwrapped the gift, thinking at first it was a scarf, and then realizing what it was. “Uh, thanks… I guess”.
Whatever Mom lacks in the ability to choose the right gift is more than made up for in her enthusiasm. My mom loves any chance to give or receive gifts, and approaches celebrations with all the joy of a young child. She would secretly unwrap gifts to see what they were and then rewrap them. A typical conversation with Mom this time of year goes something like:
Mom: “ I got you the greatest gift! Just wait, you’ll love it.”
Me: “Mom, don’t tell me – I want it to be a secret.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not telling you;, but it matches your winter coat perfectly”.
“I don’t want to know, stop talking about it”
“I’m not giving away any secrets – but it will sure keep you warm on cold days”.
“It’s a scarf, right”
“Well, I thought you wanted it to be a surprise, but since you’ve guessed, yes”.
Among Mom’s other hall of fame gifts were the years when I got a cheese gift package every year from one of the larger catalog mailers. Not a bad gift, but a bit odd considering I live in Wisconsin and can easily get what I was being sent for a much better price. Mom’s a great knitter, but somehow every sweater she’s made for me is several sizes too large. Nothing helps the old ego more than realizing that in your mother’s eyes you weigh 200 pounds.
When my daughter was 10, she opened her Chanukah gift to find a large felt Hebrew alphabet board, an item meant clearly (to everyone but my mom) for a preschooler. She reacted beautifully, a wide smile and heartfelt thanks to Grandma and Grandpa for the gift. Later, in private she came to me. “Does Grandma think I’m a baby?” she asked with some trepidation. No, I explained; Grandma meant well, but sometimes goofed in choosing gifts. Still worried, she asked if I was going to hang the alphabet board in her bedroom. I assured her that she could put in her closet, and that we’d find a more suitable home for it next year.
Mom’s greatest moment in gift giving occurred many years ago. All 3 of us kids, plus spouses, were gathered at home for a Chanukah dinner. My mom passed around wrapped gifts that were clearly books, one to each couple. Before we could unwrap them, she excitedly told us what a great gift this was, how she had one herself, and how much it had changed her life (as I said earlier, Mom gets way too enthusiastic to wait for gifts to be unwrapped). Brother number 1 unwraps his gift to find a book titled “How to Get Organized”. He opens the cover and there, inscribed on the first page, is “Happy Chanukah to Jim & Diane”. Only, he’s not Jim. We all laugh, and Mom once again exclaims what a great book this is and how it has made her more organized. I open my gift; same book. The inscription reads “Happy Chanukah to John & Stacy”; only thing is, I’m not Stacy. By this time, we’re laughing so hard that the third and final copy never was opened. So much for the organizational skills espoused by the book.
Now that we’re all older and spread across the country, we no longer gather together at Thanksgiving and Chanukah. A few years ago we started giving food as gifts. Instead of a hand wrapped gift, we order interesting items from regional producers; things like organic honeys and jams, cheeses, smoked meats. We also do charitable donations.
Our new style of gift giving is more efficient and makes sense, but I miss the surprises we used to get every year. Luckily – or not – there’s the Home Shopping Network, so even with less mobility Mom can still find those “perfect” gifts for me. They are often bizarrely off, but now I look forward to them. I know that at some point, most likely sooner than I want, I won’t be getting any more. So, bring it on Mom; whether it’s a giant serving platter I don’t need and will never use, or a year’s supply of skin care products for someone with an entirely different complexion than I have, or a 3 pound hook I’m supposed to carry in my purse to make it easier to hang on the edge of a table; whatever it is, I’m eager to open it.