The Magic of Gifts

Perhaps, like me, you need a bit of humor to lift your spirits – no matter the reason for needing the lift. Humor has always been a stalwart in my family, and we used it to get through many a tough time. If there is something weighing you down right now, I hope this excerpt from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck, will cheer you.

For years, I wrote a humor column for a Dallas suburban newspaper, and many of those columns were compiled into this book. All about parenting and family and family foibles.

The Christmas Season was always a source of great excitement at our house. It was also a time of great panic. Every year I found the Christmas Season closing in fast with me panting to cross the finish line before Santa Claus.

I’d immediately start my “Holiday Hustle” working non-stop for three weeks to get everything done. There were gifts to send out of state, and cards to mail. Since I didn’t start early enough on that task, I had to decide if I would write one letter and copy it for all our friends, or try to find the time to write individual letters. This was before the birth of The Holiday Letter, which has now become a standard way for friends to stay in touch. Some people don’t like them, but, you know, if the alternative means not keeping up with friends, I’m all for it.

Maybe instead of getting angry at the stores that were putting out their Christmas stuff before Halloween, I should have taken their reminder seriously. Then I wouldn’t have let Thanksgiving slip by without a thought of the next holiday.

My basic problem was, and still is, the fact that I don’t get in the Christmas spirit until a couple of weeks before The Day, and then the frantic juggling act begins. If I could just bring myself to think about Christmas in October I wouldn’t be faced with the necessity of regimenting my time down to the last second to get everything done — structure and discipline being the closest thing to medieval torture I can think of.

However, I knew that I had to have some structure, so sometimes I made a calendar with Things to Do. Monday was slotted for shopping. No giving in to the urge to sing carols with the kids or start making decorations. Friday was slotted for singing, and decorating would start the following week. Tuesday was the day to finish the Christmas cards. No fair claiming writer’s cramp as an excuse to quit for a while and play with the dog.

Wednesday of that week started out easy. That was the day to write my column, and I didn’t have to stress over what I would write about as I had all this great material to work from. But the strangest thing happened as I wrote about all the things I hadn’t done yet. I had to fight the urge to quit working and dash out to the store when I thought of the perfect gift to get Uncle Barney. Not to mention all the other things I’d forgotten on Monday.

While fighting down that urge, another distraction popped up. The Girl Scout caroling party. I still hadn’t called the leader to tell her what songs I’d planned for the girls.

Then I remembered someone else I should have mailed a card to.

Then I remembered I was supposed to get pop for a neighborhood holiday party.

I don’t even remember the rest of that week.

One year, I was able to take one thing off my To Do list of holiday preparations. It was the year that necessity put me in the position of making a lot of our gifts. At first, I was disappointed that our checkbook couldn’t be as generous as our hearts, but as I decided what to make for each person and started working on the projects, I got a new perspective. The time I spent on each gift made me feel closer to the person I was making it for. It was like time spent with them, thinking of all the things that make them special to me, and I realized the extra benefit of a handmade gift. A benefit I didn’t always appreciate in quite the same way.

After my husband and I moved to Texas, we rarely made it back to Michigan for holidays, and my mother always sent handmade gifts for Christmas. Necessity has ruled her entire life, and we became accustomed to not expecting gifts of any great monetary value. Even so, the arrival of her annual box always sparked an eagerness in me that I never fully understood. The gifts were either hand made or just a small trinket, and sometimes there were even gifts for ‘we-don’t-know-who’. Sometimes we didn’t even know what the gift was or what it was for; usually something she knitted or crocheted that could be a small afghan or a large lap blanket.

When the kids were young, they never understood my excitement over mother’s box, either, but I couldn’t fault them for that. It’s easy for a simple gift to be diminished when stacked up next to one larger and more expensive, and like the kids, I often saw my mother’s efforts as a mere gesture.

But the year that necessity forced me to make gifts, was the year that I finally understood what a gift really is, whether handmade or purchased.

A gift is not just a thing. It’s a connection between the person giving and the person receiving that says something special about the relationship between the two. And a gift should never be rushed. The longer you think about it, plan it, and work on it, the stronger the connection.

That’s the special, intangible ingredient my mother wrapped up and sent to us for all those years.

I would give anything in the world to get one of those boxes from my mother this year.

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