Mom was known for her gift giving skills. Yup, my Mom loved to lavish people with gifts. Unfortunately her lifestyle and her taste were anything but lavish, and you could tell.
Plus there was the fact that she really didn’t like to shop.
When the five of us were teenagers and lived at home, Mom gave up on picking out the perfect gift for us. She knew that we wanted cool clothes and that she would never be able to tell the difference between what was cool and what subject us to ridicule. High school is especially hard for kids whose mothers buy the wrong clothes.
But when we all grew up, Mom re-discovered Christmas gift giving.
She would start shopping in September or October, ordering this that and the other thing that she found interesting or fun or different. When she ordered something, she wouldn’t necessarily have someone in mind to receive it; she just liked it. And she just knew that someone else would too.
Generally she was wrong.
You see, in spite of the fact that she developed a new love of gift giving, Mom still hated to shop. So Mom ordered exclusively from the mini-catalogs she found in Parade Magazine.
You know how most of the gifts you’ve received over the years recede in your memory? I’m guessing that the gifts from grandparents nearly always fell into that category. My niece and nephews, however, all remember what Grammy gave them. We still talk about them, every single year.
I’m not sure whether the most memorable gifts arrived in 1984 or 1986. It’s a close contest.
In 1984, I spent Christmas at my sister Judy’s house, with Jude and her three kids. There were three contenders for best Mom/Grammy gift that year:
At the age of 12, my nephew Matt got cereal bowls for his gift. Cereal bowls formed out of multicolored plastic cabbage leaves. In addition to the fact that it wasn’t exactly what Matt had been hoping for, there was something weird about the bowls themselves. While each of the 4 or 5 leaves that formed the bowls started wide and formed a perfectly usable bit at the bottom of the bowl, the leaves narrowed as they went up, separating about an inch and a half from the bottom. Therefore whatever started in the bowl didn’t stay inside of it for long.
Nate, Matt’s younger brother got another “Grammy Special” that year. Nate was 7 and Mom sent him a package that read: “Twist Ties WITH CUT-TER.” And you know, it was a good thing it was clearly labeled. Because we would still be wondering what the hell that spool of green wire was for, even with the picture of the garroted tomato plant on the cardboard that the spool of Twist Ties was twist-tied to.
My sister Beth’s two boys, who were then 14 and 16, got the same presents. And they loved them just as much.
That same year Judy and I found two identical small packages from Mom. One for Judy and one for me.
“Good things come in small packages,” Judy said mischievously. “Let’s save them for last.”
Of course we did just that. But Judy was faster than I and got the wrapping off hers first. It was a little green plastic box that said “Judy” “Judy” “Judy” all over it. Inside was a pair of gold earrings in the shape of the letter “J.”
I unwrapped mine. It said “Elaine” “Elaine” “Elaine” all over the box. Inside were gold earrings in the shape of an “E.”
“Ummm, Mom?” I said to her later on the phone, “You forgot my name.”
“No I didn’t,” Mom said with a chuckle.
“Yes you did. You gave me Elaine’s earrings. My name’s Elyse. And you forgot it. My own mother forgot my name.”
“I DID NOT,” she responded, “But you know, they did have boxes at the store with just a plain old “E” on them, but I didn’t want to get that. It just seemed so boring!”
Mom was never boring when it came to gift giving.
Another memorable year for Mom gifts was 1986. You might recall that 1986 was the 100th Anniversary of the year in which the French had given the United States the Statue of Liberty. It was also the year John and I got married. So Mom decided to celebrate all kinds of events with one special gift for her new son-in-law to welcome him to the family with the perfect gift for the new man in the family.
Mom gave my new husband John a “Statue of Liberty Commemorative Switchblade. A knife. One with a locking blade, so that if/when he stabbed something, the blade would lock in place. What better gift to give to a new family member?
“Is John supposed to use this on me, Mom?” I asked. She didn’t think I was funny.
A Statue of Liberty 100th Anniversary
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In the years since Mom’s been gone, various family members (OK, just me) have tried to capture the spirit of the incredibly bizarre gifts Mom gave. But sometimes, mere mortals have to just accept that they can’t possibly compete.