On Bearing Fowl Gifts and Other Sorts
What Kind of Present is a Bird Anyway?
I was in a girls’ ensemble in the eighth grade, and we learned a very rambunctious song called “The 12 Days After Christmas.” I remember thinking it was a hilarious parody of the original. For example, the first line: “The first day after Christmas, my true love and I had a fight, and so I chopped the pear tree down and burned it just for spite.” The rest of the song continued pretty much in the same vein. I liked it much better than the original, which I always found to be very tiresome and not very pleasant as far as the gifts were concerned.
Years later, I was subjected to the religious interpretation of the “Twelve days of Christmas.” You know, each gift represents something holy like the tenth day represents the ten commandments, etcetera, and the song was a code to reveal true believers. However, the original song was written in old French, and some lines have been misinterpreted through the years. The fourth day’s gift is four collie bird not four calling birds, which would actually be black birds, and the five gold rings refer to ring-necked pheasants.
I realize that to have such bountiful gifts— birds for five days— would have meant a lot in those days, but I’m just not a gaming kind of woman, and I really would prefer pears and gold rings, and as for lords-a-leaping, maids-a-milking, and all the rest, well they could all be distributed evenly among people who like to bake and dance the gavotte and all of that kind of stuff. But I swear if someone gave me pipers piping and drummers drumming knowing my predisposition for migraines, I think that I would have a good defense for extenuating circumstances in an assault case.
Creative Gift-giving Means More
So anyway, the whole partridge in a pear tree made me think of a few things. This year, we’re really stretching our dollars to be creative with presents. I usually go overboard and buy everyone way too much simply because I usually can, and I love to buy presents for people. I love to search for things that are different and special, things that are suited to an individual’s personality. For example, one year, I was able to surprise a friend of mine with some antique cuff links. He had occasion to wear his tuxedo often, and I knew that he had a fondness for vintage 50’s items, so I happened upon a pair of cuff links in an antique store. They weren’t terribly expensive, and I thought that they would be a different sort of present, so I bought them. I believe that he liked them very much. Unfortunately, we fell out of touch years ago, but that’s the sort of present that he might hold onto.
One year, I took a black and white photograph of mine of which I was very proud, and I had several copies made, and then a friend of mine helped me to mat and frame them. I gave these to several close friends for Christmas; my only regret was that I did not make one for myself. This year, my youngest son is into thrift store and vintage clothing, which is helping with the shopping budget. One of my nieces wants Obama memorabilia, and I have plenty of that from the campaign, so I’m going to make her a few memory pages.
I was trying to remember some of my best presents, the ones that have meant the most to me over the years, and here are a few that stand out in my memory:
The first birthday present that Corey bought me was a wooden trinket box that had a few dried sweetheart roses and some baby’s breath and a very beautiful quote enclosed in glass on the top. I put my special jewelry in that box.
When the boys were working with clay in grade school, Brett made a clay dog and a clay cat; it’s a little hard to tell the difference. I still have both of those.
My friend Becky from the Museum once gave me a card with some fairy dust in a little glass vial tied to the fairy’s hands on the top of the card. I thought that it was one of the coolest things ever. She was always giving me really unique cards. I love cards, and I keep most of the ones that I get. The fairy dust card always goes on my mural.
My best friend Mari gave me a soft white sweater when I was going through my white sweater phase. I won’t tell you how old it is, but it’s cotton and it’s extremely soft from wear. Whenever I’m feeling blue or lonely, I pull out that particular sweater and put it on, frayed collar, split seam, and all.
Alexis took a photography class in high school. One of the most memorable shots she created was with a friend. Alexis laid down backwards on the staircase with her long hair flowing backwards, and her friend shot it. Lex developed it and mounted it on a piece of black board. That shot always goes right in the middle of my mural wherever I go. It is one of the most unusual photographs I have ever seen, and people who see it always remark on it. I don’t ever want to be without it.
The best present my ex-husband ever gave me, besides my children, was a cup of lilacs that he cut from a tree outside our apartment in Blacksburg in the spring.
My mom gave me a garnet tennis bracelet for a significant birthday. I finally had to stop wearing it every day because the jeweler said that I was ruining it. I love that bracelet.
A very dear friend who used to work with me at the newspaper bequeathed the Konica 35 mm camera to me when he moved on to the Boston Globe. I still have that camera, and I’ve taken some of my best shots with it.
One year at the Mother’s Day tea at preschool, Eamonn gave me a green felt magnet with his picture on it that he had made himself, and then a couple of years later, he gave me some purple stick on earrings that he bought at the school Christmas shop because purple is my favorite color and he said that I would look “elegant.” The earrings are in my box from Corey.
My mother-in-law was cleaning out her jewelry box, and she and my sister-in-law decided that a gold and multi-colored jewel ring that she had had for years but never wears should be mine. They both said that the ring looked like me. It came from overseas somewhere, probably Thailand. It’s not a temple ring, but similar because it is in rows, and it is absolutely gorgeous. It is one of my most-prized possessions.
One Christmas about three years ago, Corey surprised me with a full-length black leather coat that I had seen at the store and really loved but knew we couldn’t really afford. I still have that coat, and it’s as soft as ever.
My friend Kathleen and I used to work together for a government contractor in Northern Virginia. We would go out to lunch frequently, and because she made more money than I did, and I had a young baby at home, she mostly treated. She called me her therapist. Those were some of the best two-hour lunches of my life. I don’t think that there was any subject that we didn’t talk about. You don’t get that kind of friendship often in your life, and when you do, it’s a rare gift.
Recently, Corey’s mom surprised us by treating us to a night out at the Kennedy Center to see “Phantom of the Opera.” She knows how much Corey and I both love the play, and she has always wanted to go to the Kennedy Center, so it was an extra special treat for all of us. The four of us really enjoyed ourselves.
Speaking of nights out, Corey surprised me with tickets to see Lewis Black at the Warner Theater for Mother’s Day. He bought the tickets when he found out that Lewis Black would be in D.C. on the same weekend as my commencement from George Washington University so that we could make a weekend out of it. He knows how much I love Lewis Black. It was a hilarious show.
When my friend Rebecca lived in England for a couple of years, she sent me a beautiful kilt pin for my birthday one year. It is so me, and it meant so much that she thought of me while she was far away. We always end up giving each other jewelry somehow.
My niece in Germany just sent me a shamrock from Ireland. I found out that she was going, and I told her that I had always wanted to go to Ireland, but since I couldn’t go, maybe she could send me a piece of Ireland. She sent shamrocks for Alexis, me, her other cousin, and her other aunt that is here. What a sweetie.
These are the kinds of presents that you cherish. They don’t all cost money; some don’t cost anything at all. It’s the thoughtfulness behind them that makes them remain in the sandcastles of memory. I need to remind myself of that. Too often on Christmas morning, after everything has been unwrapped, it looks as if ten people live here instead of four. Part of it comes from being an only child, I think. I want that big family feeling I remember from Great Bridge at Christmas. But we can do it with fewer presents and more love.
More later. Peace.