Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Best Gifts

A few weekends ago, as I was putting up all over my house many happy little snowman figures - cookie jars, plates, snow globes, tea light holders, and soft, fluffy fellas - I listened to some Gordon Lightfoot records. They and a record player had just arrived from my sister Vinca as a late birthday gift. I played one LP right after another, because my siblings and I were practically raised on Gord's music, and the whirr of the player transported me straight back to my childhood. In particular, the album Salute held charm for me, because I distinctly remembered being with my dad when he bought it in Nashville. I stopped decorating, sat in our drab recliner and just listened, rocked and rested. All I needed was a really nice glass of wine to make my afternoon perfect.

I entered a sort of "great gifts" trance in which I recalled all the wonderful gifts I have received from my brother and sisters over the years, like that time Natie sent me the soundtrack to "The Last Unicorn", my favorite movie from my childhood...or the book of Opera Librettos he gave to me one Christmas. I thought of all The Beatles CDs my sister Vinca had given to me in my teenage years. And Annie? Well, she introduced me to my future husband. Natie then flew me out to meet him in Texas, and Annie paid for my wedding dress!

But...what great things had I given to my siblings? Certainly not a spouse or a really expensive dress or wonderful records from their favorite singer of all time. I could only hope there was something somewhere that I forgot but that they treasured. Sure, I've given them Christmas and birthday presents, sent flowers, and written about them, but I could not think of any really great treasure I had bestowed. That doesn't mean I didn't try, but I just don't feel my gifts were up to snuff, really.

Simply looking around my home, I saw precious gifts from family and friends. Each and every snowman that smiled at me from his sweet, frozen face beneath his stocking/top hat was given to me by a beloved someone who knew they couldn't go wrong with a snowman for Hillary. My parents gave me an enchanting snow globe and one of my first cookie jars, a rotund guy with little birdie footprints on his belly. My friend Geraldine just dropped off a baker snow lady currently presiding with her gingerbread over my shelf. Matthew gave me my favorite cookie jar after we married. Later, he bought me cherished plates with dapper dancing snowmen, of which, sadly - as is my habit - I have broken three.

Thinking of Matthew brought memories of how he gave me something that would begin a life-long infatuation on our first Christmas together. Of course - shame on me - I didn't think it was going to be a great gift. I thought he was going to give me something entirely different at the time, for my dad convinced me that Matthew had confided in him what he'd chosen. I began to dog Dad with questions about whether the present was useful (heaven forbid!), shiny, wearable, precious or edible. Dad told me things like:

"Well, it looks really good underneath the window - it reflects the light nicely. Might be best on a table...no, wait - too heavy! It's kind of oblong...ish. Pretty big actually, but not too large! The perfect size..."

The next time I asked, the reply went something like, "It's something you should put on the floor, come to think of it, probably by the TV. It's really kind of boxy - no, semi-circular. Very unique!"

I was so confused...and gullible. In the car on the way to work one morning, I begged Dad to tell me outright what the heck my present was from Matthew. Dad darted a glance at Mom and then at me in the rearview.

"Well, Hillary, I really didn't want to tell you this. But, here goes. What Matthew really got you was a...uh...a pair of skiis!"

I sat bolt upright in the back seat of our car. My face felt hot and my eyes bulgy.

"Skiis!" I shrieked. "Wh...what? I told him I will never go skiing! I am not going to break my neck on some slope, darnit! What was he thinking? He can just keep them for himself then - I told him I do not like adventure sports! How is he even going to get those here?"

I was so busy with my rant that it took me a few moments to register Mom's hysterical laughter and to notice Dad's wicked grin and twinkling eyes in the rearview. Shoot! He had been teasing me the whole time.

Of course, when Matthew did give me my gift, I didn't exactly say the most ladylike 'thank you'. Instead, I turned to my mom and said with as much excitement as I could muster, "Look, Mama...he got me a box!"

It was a ceramic, red and green, present-shaped box. Not exactly my sort of thing.

Matthew laughed and admonished, "No - open it up!"

Inside was the most beautiful turquoise bracelet. I was bowled over. He confided in me that the ceramic gift box had not been his idea. He had wanted to get a simpler cardboard one with a snowman on it, but his aunt had told him it was not fancy enough. I assured him I would have loved that cardboard snowman.

Ironically, I also gave him a bracelet that year, an I.D. bracelet with his name on it (in case he ever forgot while on a walk after drinks in a strange city) and a sappy inscription on the back that told him he was my knight. He stopped wearing it the day after we got married, I think. However, the bracelet he gave to me has yet to be usurped in my estimation. It is my absolute favorite piece of jewelry.

And that brings me back to the point: I am given the best gifts, but I am not the best giver. I mean, I did give Matthew tickets to an Arizona Cardinals game last year...but they lost that game. And they were already out of the playoffs anyway.

Meanwhile, surrounding me are a thousand blessings from loving friends and family. There's the teddy bear, Oonie, that my brother Nate got for our Gabriella that she adores more than any stuffed animal has even been adored, I think. There's Tigey, the stuffed white tiger, that Uncle Roberto gave to Danny. And, ah yes - the games. I have raised my kids on games, taught them their numbers and colors with games, and Doodle Dice, from my husband's brother, is currently Danny Sam's favorite game; he nearly always wins, too! There are the multiple books on my bookshelves that Vinca has sent to my kids with inscriptions in her beautiful handwriting noting the date and the occasion, and those just keep giving each time I read to my children. There's the very special Book 3 of Kelven's Riddle that my dad signed for his namesake, Daniel. Upon our tree hangs an abundance of ornaments that Vinca has sent to the kids, reflecting their ages and interests from year to year. Yes, none of these last mentioned gifts were given to me personally, but the joy they have brought to my children brings me joy, too.

What did I do to earn these wonderful presents? How is it so many people I love know just what will bring happiness? I can only try my best to give what will bring joy in return and say thank you.

And gratitude brings me at last in my reflection on great gifts to that first and most extraordinary gift of Christmas. What can any of us give in return for Him but love and gratitude? No other gift can ever compare. Because none of these other things I've received - however lovingly and thoughtfully they were given - could ever top the Gift that truly and continually keeps giving what we really need and long for, strength, guidance, community, hope, faith, and awe, this Gift bestowed on whoever will and can accept it. He was humbly bestowed upon all mankind in a stable, and the joy I feel when I think of Him is boundless. I can never repay Him or earn the Gift. I can only say thank you every day as I attempt to comprehend and reflect His infinite love and try, Try, TRY to be like Him.

This Christmas I thank God and all my family and friends for the joy I have found because of that great catalyst of gift-giving, that eternal spring of generosity in which I hope to grow every year: Love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Merry Christmas and may God bless us, everyone!

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