Well, before I commit to an exaggeration, let me think about that. I guess I did get a few small presents.
From Abby and Misha I received a wonderfully soft cotton t-shirt with a great horned owl on the front and back. It reminds me of Hoo2 and what a gift it is that I’ve been able to work at places like Lincoln Park Zoo and Boyd Hill. Abby also got me a good sturdy canvas knitting bag with a sheep print on the front. Those are both great, suit me fine and are entirely useful. “Useful” reminds me that I am so happy that both Dan and Abby learned fairly early that Christmas wasn’t about a big sleigh full of presents. By middle school Daniel appreciated that we were investing in musical instruments and lessons in support of his now life work, gift and passion. At thirteen I told Abby that there would be no more depreciating goods except underwear at Christmas and she needed to think of something that she wanted with lasting value. She said fretfully, “nothing from the mall?” and then cooked my Christmas goose by asking for a kayak trip up the Inside Passage. That started us on a decade of the most amazing travel adventures, trips we took together that gave us a lifetime of colorful memories and launched her commitment to the seas and environment. (Everyone still always gets new underwear, pjs or socks for Christmas.)
(Abby working on her dissertation proposal on sustainable coastal ecology, with her little LED USB Christmas tree.)
From the women I teach to make felt in Sugar Hollow I got a lovely pillow with a beautiful silk screen of birds at a feeder. Perfect choice for me. It reminds me of another gift from a friend, a beautiful collage painting of my birch tree in Ann Arbor, with all of the birds feeding.
My friend Cathy gave a Guatemalan child enough food for a month, from me. This made me so happy I cried. Every day in January, a child is not going hungry because of the gift she gave on my behalf. I was just overwhelmed. I’m going to reciprocate by giving enough diapers for a month for one of her little orphans there. Cathy’s gift also reminded me of the best Christmas gift I ever received from Rich and that was the first year when we were still courting. He was also trying to win favor with Abby that year, so he gave enough to care for all of the cats in one enclosure for a year at the humane society and the cage had an engraved plate on it that said, “We are being cared for by Vicki and Abby Bennett.” Gifts that care for those in need are wonderful gifts.
My sister Betsy gave me my all time favorite Christmas treat: dark chocolate cookie press cookies. She makes them like nobody else in the whole wide world. All of us girls us Gramma Moe’s recipe but Betsy’s are always truly fantastic and far superior. They are the most perfect thin crisps of ridged chocolate and with a glass of red wine, late on Christmas night- well, that’s a bit of Heaven. And every year they remind me of the year I was pregnant with Daniel and absolutely miserable with morning noon and night sickness of the sort where they threaten to dump your belly in the hospital with IV hydration. She sent those cookies and that was the only reason I was able to survive and give birth to my first-born love, Daniel. So the cookies mean a lot to me. Betsy is also the Queen of Wrap. No matter what she sends, the paper is lovely, the ribbon divine, the gift tags perfect classy bits, printed on re-cycled papers and covered with birds and bees. We have similar taste, but like the cookies, her wrapping is always done just so while mine has a corner poking through here and a patched in strip of paper there where I was being too stingy on the original cut. This is the first year I’ve failed to get her gift to her on time and since it was already late I went out early this morning for the day after Christmas sale on Christmas items, including wrapping papers. I wouldn’t have done it for anyone but her and I know next year this morning’s headache will be back to delight me. Now to the post office.
My neighbor, the Other Vicki, (she and husband Ken are the world vagabonds who spend a giant portion of each year traveling on his airline passes from life as a pilot) out did herself and opening the bag from her revealed a treasure trove of goodies: a bottle of olive oil from my favorite place in Tuscany, spices from the casbah in Turkey, a small bag of paprika from Hungary, a lovely star ornament she made in ceramics class and three exceptionally cool stones from oceans far, far away- the Black Sea, the Aegean. We didn’t know Other Vicki and Ken when Rich and I got married so she doesn’t know that on our wedding invitations we asked people to please not give us any gifts because there was absolutely nothing we needed more than their friendship- but if they insisted on a gift, a stone or a shell from a place that they loved would be nice. As a result we have some really super stones, including Petoskey stones from Lake Michigan and some from the Holy Land in Jerusalem . So Other Vicki’s gift reminded me not only of how much I love stones from special places but also that there is absolutely nothing I really need more than a good stone.
All of these reminders were good because Rich , as usual, struggled this year in the gift department. He’s never been especially good at holiday times (that is a kind understatement) and the entire family laughingly tells him it’s time to go to CVS at 11pm Christmas Eve so he can buy gas and Starbucks gift cards off the revolving rack. This year he left late Christmas eve afternoon, right when I needed help around the house, to go to Target where he bought a screw driver for Misha, a rocket blender for Abby and four beer glasses “for the house.” (this was written on the wrapping paper in ink). Neither of us drink enough beer to need a dedicated glass. Sophie, by comparison, made out like a bandit. I think it was with embarrassment and humor that he chose a comic card with the punch line reading, “cuz you’re in charge of picking it out.” After a day of feeling irritable about it, I finally found his gift to me: remembering that there’s not a single thing I needed and not much that I want to clutter up my life at this point. Cliche that it is, the truth is most certainly that Christmas is not about stuff. Rich’s inability to go Christmas shopping is not indicative of his feelings for me. I have no idea why he is holiday challenged; the therapist in me is quite certain that it goes back to his childhood in some similar fashion to my need to have Christmas be perfect and shiny bright. I’m remembering that he works very very hard to provide for us and that we live, relative to most everybody else in the world, among the rich and well nourished. And in my effort to stop being childish, I was able to remember all of the kindnesses that he shows me, including his love for the children (and Sophie), his weekly letters to my stepfather Bud at the nursing home, wonderful travel to see the world and the random acts of compassion and kindness he shows towards others. He stood up from the Christmas dinner table yesterday and packed up an enormous plate, got in the car and drove it over to a homeless man he’s befriended. In other words, his gift to me is that he makes me work a bit on my attitude. And as grudging as I was when I set out to adjust my attitude this morning, I now remember all of these amazing gifts. Thank you, Rich.
(I also got a bouquet of flowers Rich picked from the yard- a reminder that I am basking in the warmth and beauty of our surrounds here at the bungalow.)
What did you get for Christmas?
(Here’s something else I got for Christmas. Bonnie came by and left one of her kind comments, which I always love. What, no poem?? And I re-read my post and realized that the paragraph about Rich, as I originally wrote it, was kind of snarky. So I made yet another attitude adjustment. Good deal.)