Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The gifts that keep on giving...

Who didn't love the bunny suit Ralphy got for Christmas, in a "Christmas Story," right? Or the gift of jelly beans given to Clark Griswald and his family when he was preparing for a pool, instead. He should have listened to his crazy rednecked brother-in-law Eddie; It is the gift that keeps on giving!

As I think back to all the gifts I've given, or received, I can say with assurity that most were items Ralphy's Aunt Clara would have salivated over.

So as things go around this time of year, my husband and I were swapping favorite gift stories. His was a wooden toolbox with real tools inside: Screwdriver, hammer-- the works. He couldn’t have been more than ten. Actually,now that I think of it, a toolbox was one of my favorite gifts at my wedding shower, too. You can’t go wrong with a shiny new hammer, but I had to think for a minute about what my favorite Christmas gift was. I think the year I got a roll-top desk, and a pair of ice skates was a banner year, because most of the time my gifts have been, well, let's just say...interesting.

Here’s the deal, the 411, the big kahoona; most people know my dad likes to hunt, but few know that my mom does, too. She likes to hunt bargains. She isn’t big into gifts, and never asks what you "want" for Christmas or your birthday, but where she lacks in sentiment, she doubles in efficiency, scouring the sales all year long. Then around July, when everything is 80% off, she goes crazy and buys seven sweaters, seven bathrobes, seven flashlights, or whatever else she can find in multiples of seven, and then buys 23 come-what-fors, for her grandkids. I admire her creativity and her tenacity because I rarely bargain shop. And it's not because I don't have to, like she will argue, it's because I don't want to. I refuse to. Call it surpressed rage, whatever. I get what is on the list. And it is never on sale when I go to buy it. I would be a horrible accountant or budget-er. Sometimes I hate coupon clippers for the guilt that I feel after I hear how they got the same item I paid full price for, at 75% off by shopping when it was 20% off and then double couponing. I do not hunt. I buy. My mom says that was never an option for her. Whatever, Mom. Haven't you ever heard of a credit card? Just kidding, of course!

First the background: My parent's have a large posterity. Seven kids, seven in-laws, and a bushelful of grandkids. Growing up we were spread out. Some in college, some on missions, and the rest stretched from high school to grade school. Add to that, a business of her own--not Mary Kay, or Avon, Nooo--but a furniture store, where she also sold carpet and drapes, and it is safe to say she was spread thin. Extremely busy would be an understatement. I have no idea how she came home every night and fixed us dinner. Kudos to all moms who can work and still make time for other things--like dinner. I couldn’t do it. I can barely keep up as it is. There I go, getting off topic.

So, if you are wondering what to give, or what not to give, or still don’t know yet, here is a master list of some very forgettable, or unforgettable, albeit by infamy, gifts to consider:

• A lovely head scarf. Not some beautiful flowing hand spun silky thing from India, but a plain blue cotton one, meant for tying around your head in a practical manner, like my grandmother wore on windy or rainy days, because she only got her hair “fixed” on Saturdays. This is what my mom had me wrap up for a friend's sixth grade birthday party.

What sixth grader is going to wear a scarf around their head for crying out loud?

You can only imagine my mortification when the girl opened her gift. “A scarf? Thanks.” I swear I could hear some postal toy pig saying, “A head scarf? Who invited that kid?”

Usually when it was time to open presents I was nowhere to be found. Humiliated at what lie within, I made myself absent. Washing their dishes, sweeping their floor, cleaning their gutters, anything other than having to be there to see the look of disappointment and confusion on their faces.

• Socks. They were crocheted looking, and I thought they were cute. But I still disappeared when it was time to rip open the goods.

My trick? I didn’t put my name on anything. Then, they’d never know who brought the lousy puzzle, sporting different birds in flight, to a third grader's birthday party.

• Deodorant. That was for my brother. You can imagine how this went over. Don’t worry, I blamed my mom. She was the one who gave it to me to wrap up. Not my fault, Eric, now get over it, already!

Okay, this next one was my idea. A neighbor came over and I was eating a carrot and I wanted to give her something nice, so I wrapped the half-eaten carrot up, and gave it to her. Look I was three. And I was missing a few connections in the brain. I think she left, offended. Moral..if a kid wraps up a half-eaten carrot at Christmas for you, know that it is given with love.

Then there were the gifts I received. The thing is, they usually came a tad too late in life, like the Barbie Car in fourth grade, or the Cabbage Patch in fifth grade. Just a little behind the curve ball. What girl with a poster of Menudo and Madonna hanging on her walls, still plays with dolls? This happened to my husband when he received a letterman's jacket his senior year for Christmas. By then he was nearly out the door and didn’t want anything to do with high school. So he has this really lovely letterman’s jacket in our closet that has only been warn a couple times. And from the feel of it I am sure it was not cheap.

I got some material for Christmas one year. That was interesting. I get what my mom was thinking, so it’s fine, just not very exciting. And one year in high school I got a camera, the kind you have to move forward yourself. I think they are extinct now, except for the disposable ones you can grab at the check out lane. Disposable? Who would have ever imagined such a thing. So except for the miracle of '86, when I received a pink caboodle for my birthday,(I didn't think she even knew what a Caboodle was,) most of the gifts are fun memories we tease her about now. Like the time she sent my brothers’ cans of sweetened condensed milk for their birthdays when they were far from home. Neither one even knew what sweetened condenced milk was, let alone what they were supposed to do with it. And who could forget about the fifty key chains she sent to my brother who was on a mission in Spain and didn’t even have a car to drive.

Oh there just isn’t time, or space. I’ll have to post on mission packages another day.

The point is, I love Christmas. LOVE IT. So if you are worried that the gift you are giving is not up to par, or will ruin their life because it is a knock-off Cabbage patch doll? Don’t worry. Wrap it up nice, sing some songs, make treats, read the Christmas story from the Bible, leave Santa some cookies, (and make sure he eats them,) and your kids will remember Christmas as the magical and exciting experience I always felt it was. As my mom would say, “It’s all about the presentation.” Be aware that if you give any of the above items as gifts, there is bound to be some backlash,though, oh, and fewer birthday party invites, too.

What was the craziest gift you ever received or gave? Do you remember any gifts I gave you? Did they scar you for life?

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stories from my very priviledged life...

Growing up, my parent's motto was to never have a car that looked too good, for fear it would create "egotistical, vain and um...well...proud children." Once, while shopping for a car, the dealer showed them a sporty looking Geo Metro. Did you catch that? A 1989 Geo Metro. Apple red, no doubt. And my mom turned to him and said, "Oh no, that will never do. Our kids must drive something a little more humble." So we ended up with a 1983 Powder blue Chevy Sprint, which we were thrilled with, as we'd driven a 1978 frog-green Dodge Colt, lovingly nicknamed "The Green Machine," into the ground before that.

Soon after we bought the Sprint I had a brother get married and for a wedding gift my parents bought them a car we nicknamed "The Peach Blossom." I had just read, "The Good Earth" by Pearl Buck and Peach Blossom, as you'll recall was one of Wang Lungs Concubines. It was my first attempt at satire. It was probably a Datsun of some sort that I had never seen before, nor since. A lovely salmony-peach thing that smelled of smoke, moldy cheese, and spilt milk.

Sorry Eric and Jana, but that thing was a beast. The front seat was broken, so when you drove you were actually looking out the back seat window, causing people passing by to pull a double take, wondering who was driving that peach contraption, anyway. While I still had an ounce of pride I sat upright and away from the seat, which could account for the bad back I suffer from now. I've driven some ugly cars, but that one took the cake. I bought a car tree freshener, but that did little to mask the sour,moldy,stinky smell. I had no desire to cruise, pick up boys or do anything other than travel from point a to point b incognito if at all humanly possible. Hey, I'm finally catching on that that was probably my parent's point.

You may wonder what I was doing driving a car that was supposed to be a wedding gift. Well, my parents drove it around themselves before the wedding. Much like using the toaster before you give it away as a gift, maybe. Hey, don't judge. Everybody needs a little toast now and then. Oh, gift giving. I could share some fun stories about some of the gifts both given and received at our house, but I'll save that for a later post. One closer to Christmas. But first I have to tell you how this story ends. The car eventually was left for dead, I mean, put up for sale. Eric and Jana, deciding that their wedding gift was no longer a viable mode of transportation, or were just totally P.O.'d when they found out I'd been doing doughnuts in their wedding gift, parked the Peach Blossom at my parent's store with a sign in the window: "For sale, cheap. Real cheap. Please take." I was probably sixteen or seventeen at the time, and as it is when you are that age, I was in a hurry one day and forgot about looking over my shoulder when I backed out and smacked right into the side of it. It was an inevitable ending to a doomed relationship. One that I have never regretted ending.

So why am I telling this story? My son is turning 15 next month, and has informed me that if he takes and passes a test he can get his learner's permit. I started reading the classifieds for a used car. Perhaps one at least fifteen years old, with a hundred thousand miles, and preferably the color peach, or salmon.
Anyone know where I can find something like that?