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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not Every Present Is A Gift

I have a bit of a history when it comes to Christmas gifts. Both giving and receiving. Some gifts have been really wonderful, like the year I got this amazing doll house that had people with magnets on the bottom that you moved around their super modern house with a long magnetic wand. I loved this toy. My dad and I spent a long time putting it together, well, I was 4, and I doubt I was much help, but I loved it.

When I was five I loved the show "Beany and Cecil." That Christmas I received a stuffed Cecil the sea serpent. He was big, and plush and soft, and even better? He talked! He had one of those pull cords and he would say things like “Hold on Beany, I’m coming!” I only had this precious toy for about an hour before I tripped and spilled milk all over it. After that Cecil’s speech was slurred and his soft, green coat was matted and coarse. He was more like a drunk and degenerate sea serpent from that point on, but being the frugal family we were, we didn’t replace him. I still played with him, but he was just a sad reminder of what could have been.

Two Christmas’s ago I agonized over what to get my then boyfriend for a gift. We’d been dating for a while and I wanted to do something really special for him. Finally, one night it came to me. I was going to take him to his favorite author’s home in Connecticut, in the interest of privacy, let’s call it the Schmark Wayne House. I even found an incredible inn where we could spend a romantic night; it was going to be perfect.

He couldn’t get together ON Christmas, which in hindsight should have been a big clue; somehow his campaigning for how totally awesome Boxing Day was didn’t really cut it. But I was so excited about his present I let it go.

When he came over on Boxing Day, which, by the way if you don’t live in England is just the day after Christmas, I presented him with his gift. I’d printed out the information about the Schmark Wayne House and the super romantic inn. I could barely contain my excitement. I’d never had much money to spend, but that Christmas I was able to splurge and was beyond thrilled to be able to give him a big gift. I presented him with the large envelope I’d decorated. He opened it and then, he just didn’t seem as excited as I thought he would be. My heart sank, but I just smiled and I opened my gifts from him. A picture frame, a T-shirt and a candle. It was then that I began to realize we were not having the same relationship. We broke up a couple of months later never having made that trip. I still have the shirt, the frame and the candle though, so it wasn’t a complete loss. And, I never had to spend the money on the trip, so I got to look generous and not spend a dime.

But, I have to say, the hall of fame of gift disasters happened about seven years ago. I never had much of a relationship with my father. He’d left our family and moved to Maryland when I was about 6. I’ve always wondered if it was the Cecil incident, but since Cecil could barely talk I never got anything out of him. Our contact was spotty at best through the years. He’d grudgingly come to my wedding in 1977, but I hadn’t seen him since. At one point I found out he’d moved to Ireland via a wife I’d never met. He’d me call every few years and ask me how much I weighed. Yes, this is true. And we’d have intellectual banter that was exhausting and usually humiliating since I’d seldom kept up with reading he deemed appropriate. He was a bit of an intellectual snob.

He seemed proud however that I had become a writer, even though I was writing about pop culture and not hard news. In his eyes I was supposed to be thin and pretty, anything I did beyond that was a bonus.

During my adult years it was rare to ever get gifts from him, but after he’d married his third wife – yes, it took three wives, each progressively closer to my age to see him through, he started to sometimes send something.

So when a package arrived that Christmas I was surprised, but touched. I’d sent him some photos of my three kids and myself, sans the 1977 husband, and was trying to do my best to be a good daughter.

I didn’t wait until Christmas to open his package. The day it came I had brought it up to my desk, sat down and opened it. I had to first make it through the copious amount of tape on the shipping envelope, and then made it to the brightly wrapped package, which by its shape and feel I could tell was a book. I was happy, I love books!

I tore open the wrapping paper, and when faced with the back of the book, turned it over. I sat there stunned for a second or two, and then burst out laughing. My father, the man who left when I was little, who was never a part of my life had decided the perfect Christmas gift to give me, his only daughter, was a copy of, “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

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