I’ve received thousands of gifts in my lifetime. Some were Perfect -- exactly what I wanted. Some were suspect, but turned out to be treasures. Some were wildly inappropriate.
A few are vividly memorable.
In 1946, World War II had just ended. I was six years old. Toy production had not been a priority during the war and playthings for children were scarce and expensive. During the war, metal toys were hard to come by. I remember owning a scooter that had wooden wheels. It didn’t work well. It didn’t scoot.
In 1946, I wanted a doll house more than anything in the world.
My favorite aunt made a doll house for me. From scratch. Nobody had yet thought of putting together a kit for making a dollhouse. She put real shingles on the roof, little wooden shutters on the windows and wallpaper on the walls. She made the furniture too – tiny floral print overstuffed chairs with removable cushions, a camel-back sofa covered with blue velvet, a tiny wooden trestle table, colorful braided rugs and sheer white ruffled tie-back curtains.
It was a Christmas morning surprise I’ll remember always. I played with it for nearly a decade and put it away, reluctantly, only when I considered myself too old for dolls.
A memorable “bad” gift came from the same beloved aunt. Apparently, I was not an easy-going, even-tempered kid. After a particularly spectacular Christmas Eve tantrum, on Christmas morning I found a lump of coal wrapped in a scrap of newspaper stuffed in the toe of my Christmas stocking. Santa’s so-called “gift” for bad boys and girls was a puzzlement. When my aunt saw the look on my face, she burst into tears. Then I burst into tears.
She apologized for her thoughtlessness for the next 45 years.
Another memorable gift was a beautifully designed Lucite toilet plunger. One year, my friend Pat gave three of her friends toilet plungers for Christmas because she had one in her guest bathroom and we admired it. Four of us traditionally exchanged gifts mid-December while treating ourselves to an extravagant dinner at a fancy restaurant. We opened our festively wrapped toilet plungers by candlelight, while enjoying dessert at the Coach restaurant atop the RenCen, much to the amusement of the other diners.
One year, for Mother’s Day, one of my grown daughters gave me card with a list of 10 things I taught her. Most of the items must have been passed on by osmosis, because I don’t remember preaching them. Some, I don’t remember mentioning. Ever.
“Everybody deserves respect, even if they’re really, really dumb” for example. And “If you’re very sad, you can spend a day or two crying and cursing and carrying on. Then get over it and move on.”
I had no idea I taught her stuff like this. I still have the list she gave me and I’m considering putting it in my safe deposit box.
My parents, when they were in their 80s, claimed they had every material thing they ever wanted. Instead of acquiring more stuff, they started giving things away. This posed a problem when I wanted to buy them a Christmas gift or a birthday gift.
“Just send me a nice card and some good wishes,” my dad said.
“We don’t need anything,” my mother said. “If we need something, we’ll get it ourselves.”
For Christmas, I bought a metal trash can and some poster paint. I decorated it with colorful flowers and designs. They said it was The Perfect Gift. Too good for trash, they claimed.
They used it to store garden tools.