It’s the Thought That Counts

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.

Google Image

Google Image

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.

Not at all interesting or artsy.  Just messy. (Google image)

Matt’s was not at all interesting or artsy. Just messy.
(Google image)

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.”

Yup.  I still have them!

Yup. I still have them!

“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.



Image from Ebay, because after all who wouldn't want one of these?

Image from Ebay
You know you want one

A Statue of Liberty 100th Anniversary

Commemorative Switchblade

*    *     *

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.


Filed under Conspicuous consumption, Family, History, Holidays, Huh?, Humor, Mom, Taking Care of Each Other

54 responses to “It’s the Thought That Counts

  1. Oh my goodness that’s hilarious!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elaine! still laughing, although I’m sure you had a few raised puzzled eyebrows over the years, as the gift-giving progressed. LOL


  3. This was hysterical! I love the irony that your mom hated to shop, but loved to give gifts. Can you imagine what she would have done if there had been internet back then?


  4. I hate to shop too! Way back when, every year my mother would buy me a new outfit for my birthday. I never liked the outfit, but I would exchange it for something I liked & would have a least one new thing to wear for the year. We gave up exchanging gifts a long time ago, but I often think back to those days.


  5. Those are some seriously excellent gifts! I’m a particular fan of the cabbage cereal bowl. I used to buy my mum pretty horrible gifts as a child. I once got her a crystal star sign “artefact”. Luckily she was too nice to tell me how incredibly foul it was, though saying that it didn’t stay on the windowsill all that long…


    • Yes, but as a child, those gifts were expected to be awful (I have a collection from my son). But by the time one is in her 60s or 70s, she should have acquired some taste. Mom never did, but it was just as endearing!


  6. My mom always made Christmas amazing, even though my Pop was rarely working. It’s funny how the next week the yellow chiffon bell bottoms were not nearly as magical as they had been on the morning we opened presents.


  7. Love the gifts! At least she tried. And now what fun memories of your mom. I love that you kept the earrings. I bet you do too.


  8. This is wonderful! Your Mom will always come to life for all of you at Christmas as you share the stories of the crazy gifts. Thanks for sharing this bit of her with us.


    • Mom really was a hoot. At first she was hurt that we giggled at her gifts, but after a while I think she started looking for weird gifts. That was when she got us more normal stuff, though!


  9. My Mom was good at giving gifts but I have a couple-friend who can outdo the most inane gifts ever. They try to find gifts on sale (like poinsettias after Christmas when they are half-dead) or things that aren’t selling so they are cheap (like a squirrel pin with rabbit ears). We always laugh and have a contest as to how fast we will drop the gift in the trash afterward. They are really good friends but we cringe when they bring gifts for anything. (However, they are memory makers!)


    • I’m confused Kate. What’s weird about a squirrel pin with rabbit ears. Unless of course it means the old kind of aerial, then that would be weird! Just kidding.

      I think you should have some fun with these friends. The stuff you can find for them is probably limitless!


      • About the pin — it’s supposed to be a squirrel but it has BIG ears. I’m a cat person but I guess they think that’s close enough. We have a lot of fun fantasizing about gifts to buy for them but there is something in my DNA that doesn’t allow me to spend money like that. Maybe there are meetings for that.


  10. I love this so much. How fabulous that you still talk about these…um…interesting gifts! What better way to keep someone’s memory alive than that? She’s still there with you in some part. That’s really quite beautiful. (Unlike those bowls. 😉 )


    • Glad you liked it, Carrie.

      It’s impossible to think of Christmas without thinking of my Mom. That’s probably true for everybody. Moms do so much to make Christmas Christmas.


  11. Luanne

    Oh good grief. This is absolutely hysterical. Your poor mother . . . . Your poor family. hahaha. The closest thing my family comes to this is not at all the same. Do you remember when there were Ronci products advertised on TV all the time? Every year we gave my dad some silly Ronco product as a joke and only because our nickname for him was Ron because some guy kept accidentally calling him Ron when his name was Rudy. Dumb.


    • I have to admit that I tortured my mother about the fact that she forgot my name. Once I went too far and actually made her cry — but then I told her the story the way I wrote it and she agreed that it was pretty funny so I don’t feel guilty repeating it (although making Mom cry is a terrible thing).

      We had/have many Ronco gadgets — all from Mom. Even today I have one of their handy vegetable/finger choppers in the cupboard. Once someone dies I cannot throw away anything they gave me. My house is FULL of crap!

      I hope your Dad gave the guy who couldn’t remember what to call him a nick-name. (Although I currently have a client whose first AND last names are both normal first names. I do not address him by name.)


  12. Love this Elyse-Elaine. My sisters and I were just talking about the weird and unforgettable gifts my Nana always sent to us as children. At 10 I received a whole emergency car kit (complete with heavy-duty blanket in case we were stuck in a horrible Tennessee blizzard). There would be toothbrushes and puppy pajamas several sizes off and clogs. The lady LOVED gifting clogs. Regardless of how random the gifts were we were always excited to see what she had sent for us!


    • Based on gift giving tendencies of previous generations, we must be related somehow, Tori. We got a toothbrush and a hairbrush every year from Mom when we were growing up (one toothbrush for a year sounds so revolting, doesn’t it?).

      I don’t know about you, but I still have puppy dogs on my jammies.


  13. Elaine, When I married Rick, I also married into a family of aunts, my MIL’s sisters, who gave some memorable gadgets, decorations and realia. Every Christmas we all have a laugh remembering the various assortment of gifts from them including a Christmas ornament with the name George because one aunt couldn’t find the name Georgette. your blogging friend, George (Thanks for the chuckles and memories this morning.)


    • Well, George, I feel for you in the “nothing has my name on it” category. I remember talking to a friend of mine who was about to give his new daughter an unusual name — and saying that the hardest part was never being able to have a license plate for my bike with my name on it. I felt the tears burning behind my eyes as I mentioned it … Of course now we can personalize everything.

      Glad to bring back the Aunts-in-law for you, George.

      Love, Elaine


  14. bigsheepcommunications

    Those gifts were certainly “special.” 😀


    • Yes, it really was a huge part of the fun of Christmas in the 80s and 90s — wondering who would get the most “special” gift from Mom. But I swear, buying these things kept her entertained for months. And while we laughed with her about the gifts she chose (except with the Statue of Liberty Commemorative Switchblade because I could never bring myself to ask my mother “Just on whom do you think he’s going to use this knife?). I think as time went on she looked for the weird stuff because it cracked everybody up. At least that’s my hope.


  15. Cheers to your mom and her efforts .. and yes … stop trying because one either has the knack or not.


    • It’s easier to choose gifts like these now. Back then there weren’t so many places to look. Remember the thin little black and white insert into Parade? That’s where she got the stuff.

      These days I get dozens of catalogs, and I LOVE looking through them. Occasionally I find the perfect “Mom” gift — for his 40th birthday, I gave Matt (of cabbage leaf bowl fame) a personal blow-torch from the Lillian Vernon catalog. It allows you to burn your lawn or your patio. It was memorable.


  16. I think I want one of those bowls, if only so I can watch the twins try to eat cereal out of it.


  17. Commemorative switchblade! This story has so many layers … and I loved them all 🙂 God Bless your Mom 🙂

    Years ago, Mom wrapped up and gave me a stuffed dairy Cow who had a sign hanging on her that read, “Home is where the herd is.” It was her way of reminding me not to forget from where I came .. like I could, with a cow in my living room. Still have it.


    • I LOVE that! And that you still have it. But I think in that department, I lucked out — Elaine’s earrings are small enough to keep easily. Like where no one can see them!


      • It’s still hilarious that she gave you Elaine earrings 🙂 Nice to have something that makes you smile every time you see them! Oh those mothers …. My Mom is 83 years old, 90lbs and was on a rant the other night b/c her favorite hockey team’s game wasn’t on … MJ


  18. This was funny, sorry. I think there is one in every group. My brother in law’s dad does the same thing. Now let me at that commemorative switchblade. *wink*


  19. So funny! I still hang on my Christmas tree the plastic snowflake with a photograph of my Cousin Margie on it. Everyone got one that year, and discreetly threw them out (someday I’ll tell you about my Cousin Margie). But Mom kept hers, and everyone was shocked when, after my mom passed away, I took that snowflake home. It was a part of the family story of that generation, and when I hang it on the tree I always shake my head and smile. Merry Christmas, Elyse (aka Elaine).


    • That’s great! I hope you tweak your Cousin about it every year in a Christmas card … “I seeeeeeeeeee you …” For me those handmade ones are the ornaments that make me miss my family the most.
      Have a great holiday.


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