Finding the perfect gift can be difficult and, according to a psychologist whose interview I chanced to catch on the car radio, can be the cause of stress and anxiety at a time of year thought to be full of joy.
I can relate to that, for I used to agonize over what to get my mother. For her it was about the thought that went into a gift. And if you were able to come up with something she liked, then it was a homerun. Those homeruns weren’t frequent, but when they happened, I understood what was meant by the joy of giving.
One such gift was a wren I carved from a small block of white pine. I was probably 12 or 13 at the time and remember looking through my mother’s bird books to spot the wren with its turned-up tail, pointed tiny beak and brown and black markings. I made feet from wire and painted the bird with watercolors that quickly soaked into the wood.
My mother didn’t mask her delight on lifting the bird from the wrapping paper. Its true test came over the years as the wren always had a place along with a menagerie of animals, some glass, some wood and others in ceramic and plastic – mostly dogs – that populated the fireplace mantle.
The wren came to mind as I lifted a dove, made of foam with glued-on feathers, from the box of Christmas tree ornaments. The dove was the worst for wear. It was missing an eye and one wing was at right angles to its body. The wire legs used to attach it to a bough were wound in a knot.
The dove has been a resident of our tree for decades. I couldn’t put him aside now. With a little attention he was back on his perch looking down at the rest of the ornaments – albeit with one eye.
It’s the other ornaments that caught my attention and got me thinking about “perfect” Christmas gifts. There was the typewriter that Carol gave me soon after we were married. I can’t imagine there are many of them or where she found it, but it’s survived all these years. Then there was the 356 Porsche that my daughter Diana found on eBay. That went alongside the canoe with Santa paddling that my granddaughter Alex gave me last Christmas. Out came the ceramic snowflake with the picture of my granddaughter Natalie when she was four and a perfect tiny guitar, a gift to Carol. Carol found a place for the guitar and a small sailboat, a gift from my son, Ted. I dug deeper into the ornaments and came up with a miniature bag of Rocky Point clamcakes. Diana had found them eight to ten years ago when so much attention was focused on preserving the park as open space.
Each ornament capsulated a time, a passion or an avocation but more importantly it also is a personal connection to the effort that went into its selection. Gift cards or for that matter the practical gifts we give one another – such as a toaster, which we could use – just don’t cut it.
I’m thinking if you’re stressed out over the perfect gift, find, even make, a tree ornament. It won’t cost much and if you feel that’s not enough, attach that gift card or a check. I’ll venture like that wren carved from pine, your gift will go on from year to year. That’s enough to dispel anxiety and make for a joyous Christmas.
As Carol and I continued the tree decoration Sunday, I unwrapped a smiling hippopotamus wearing a Santa hat. Now, who on earth would give us that, and why? I laughed when I remembered.
I couldn’t resist getting the hippo, but then recalled who could I give it to without offending them? I couldn’t come up with someone.
But then, the answer was easy.
The hippo was for laughs. I had to keep it.