My holiday shopping skills are best measured in degrees of ineptitude and stress. While I strike gold every once in a while, it typically feels random and lucky. This deficiency is surprising, considering how effortlessly my parents navigate the murky waters of gift giving, albeit with distinct styles.
My mother, no matter the season or situation, is constantly on alert for potential presents, compiling notes in her head and on paper. If she sees someone struggling with a pot roast, she might jot down something like, “Needs Dutch oven — current one bad.” This seems like an exhausting year-round job, but she has unrelenting stamina.
Unlike Santa, that ruthless judge of character, my mom doesn’t divide her lists into naughty and nice. If you’ve made her gift list, it’s assumed you’ve been nice enough to deserve it. Or maybe not, but she doesn’t care. This open-heartedness allows her to move past the moral calculations and get right down to the important business of optimizing a lucky recipient’s kitchen efficiency.
While my father also pays attention to filling gaps in people’s possessions, at his core he is a devout believer in the supremacy of impulse, and neither need nor desire are necessarily factors. For instance, I might not need one of his old shirts from the 70s, nor did I ask for it, but, hey, he found it in the back of his closet and thought I might like it. And you know what, it looks pretty good on me.
My parents are both food lovers and enjoy sharing their culinary creations. I don’t regret a single cavity caused by month-long binges on my mom’s annual Christmas almond roca. And, as a primary chef in her social circle of foodies, many of her holiday gifts aren’t wrapped but rather served hot.
My dad, an avid hunter, specializes in meat. Smoked, ground, cured, frozen, you name it: if it’s a wild Montana ungulate, it’s an opportunity to fill the bellies of loved ones. Also, each year, he and his friend Scott McMillion auction off a wild-game feast to raise funds for charity, and bids come in high for the delectable evening, which offers the added bonus of observing a writer and an artist attempting to be temporary professional chefs without burning down the house. It’s a gift that gives on multiple fronts.
When I’m in the throes of indecisiveness and panic over last-minute Christmas shopping, my wife reassures me it’s the thought that counts. That’s fine, but if I would have thought about it longer, or more systematically, then the final product would count for a lot more, too. But, alas, some people are just going to end up with a book I like but have no idea if they will like.
I’m a problematic gift receiver as well, as maybe only twice in my life have I provided a satisfactory answer to the question, “What do you want or need?” Fortunately, my baby can now deflect and distract, as everybody is too preoccupied with buying him presents and then absorbed with watching him eat the wrapping paper to notice my shabby little bagged gift sitting morosely under the tree.
I would like to think I inherited my parents’ generosity, even if I can’t match their gift-giving skills. I really do try and care, but my mind is simply more comfortable conjuring sentences than sorting material possessions. I would also like to think I’ve given at least one good present to each family member at some point. I take comfort in that thought, because, after all, it’s the thought that counts.
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