While I’m certain we purchased more gifts for our kids when they were small, a number of years ago our family retreated from buying many material gifts to instead spend more of our time and money on experiences: plays, music, food. Like many other families we encouraged handmade gifts, and now more than ever, place priority on buying local for those things we do purchase. That being said, we have probably had our own number of dud gifts.
This morning I was sharing my memory of the Green Corduroy Pantsuits as I helped Mom with her breakfast. I hoped to hear her usual laugh, the one I have consistently invited over the years in the sharing of this Christmas story. This year, in this place we now sit as Mom approaches her 88th birthday, she didn’t seem to remember the gift. Instead she said, “That was sweet of him.” Thankfully, I swallowed a sarcastic reply before it left my lips, instead agreeing. “Yes,” I said. Mom was right: it was a kind and sweet attempt to share the joy of the season, even if it seemed terribly misguided to me as a high school sophomore.
“We joked about the terrible years of my teenage-hood when he tried so hard but I wouldn’t forgive. Dad seemed to remember me giving him an unsolicited hug after I learned he had gotten a vasectomy–something I had no memory of. I reminded him about the matching gifts he bought Mom and me one Christmas.Chapter 19 Watching the River Run, My Music Man, 2017
He smiled. “How could you not have loved that?”
Dad was not a birthday or Christmas kind of guy–except for the food and family –and generally relied on Mom to make these celebrations special; something she did with amazing flair. When I was fifteen, something got into Dad and he went into Meier & Frank at the height of holiday season, thinking he would select something special for the two gals he loved so much.
Christmas Morning, 1976, Dad pulled two identical store-wrapped gifts out from under the tree. He put one in front of Mom and handed the other to me with an unusual look of anticipation. This wasn’t usually the happiest time for Dad –with long-ago memories of awakening from late Christmas Eves to morning boisterousness. Mom opened hers first, thrilled at the effort Dad was making to be part of our present frenzy. As she pulled the white tissue paper away, she proudly held up a kelly green corduroy one-piece pantsuit –complete with long bell-bottom legs, bell sleeves, a full zipper up the front, and a narrow fabric belt.
Now it was my turn. I began to open the package. I swallowed as I lifted aside the same white tissue paper. And there it was: an identical, slightly smaller, pantsuit. Kelly green. I swallowed again, smiled briefly at Dad and mumbled a thank-you. I locked my eyes on Mom’s and tried not to roll them.”
I never wore the pantsuit, although I remember Mom wore hers regularly (and as demonstrated in the top photo at Illahee in Ocean Park). It was several decades later that Dad and I joked about it. I am sure deep down I always understood that it is the thought that counts, even if I was a bit of an unforgiving teenager back then.
I think back to the material gifts I’ve given over the years: certainly I have purchased my own share of duds. (There was that guitar to one of our daughters….at least we purchased it locally in Oregon City!) But in the end, we all know deep, deep down what matters most in any gift-giving. It’s been years since I struggled over the right gift. We will have very few gifts under our tree this year, similar to the last few. No junk or things nobody will use or appreciate simply to fill a stocking or add another box. Although we may have a few extra dollars that could be wasted in that way, the money is always more useful to support someone else. Those few gifts that may eventually make it under our tree will come from local sources: thank you White Rabbit Books and Gifts, wares from artisans at our local bazaar, and – I suspect – a few handmade items from our talented daughters. When our kids were younger I remember feeling that materialistic-driven expectation from my past that we needed to buy more, do more, to support these much loved daughters and family members. I’m thankful that the message the thought counts most (and Dad’s love of family and food) overpowered the other, and does to this day.
Our Dad was known for his oft repeated phrase: “If you knew what I knew you wouldn’t sleep tonight.” He used it before birthdays, Christmases and other special occasions. I look back and understand today, it really had nothing to do with some wrapped present, but rather, the anticipation of the joy any one of us might receive from the time or experience we shared together. And so, as I personally look forward to a week of less work, and moments with family and a small puppy, I am hopeful that everyone can find something ahead of them to rejoice in, be it the message or spirit of a holiday, or the anticipation of sharing a quiet walk, joyful music, or extra moments with a good book and a soothing cup of tea. And if you happen to receive what feels like a misguided present, grit your teeth and smile. Then write it down so you’ll remember to talk about it one day.