The Gift - Certificate - NotSaturday, December 14, 2013
Tonight we saw David Lynch’s lesser known 1999 The Straight Story, with Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek and with a brief appearance at the end by Harry Dean Stanton. The film is sentimental but brutal, too, lovingly edited and produced by Mary Sweeny, Lynch’s longtime partner.
There was one line in the film that set me thinking all night. The old man that Richard Farsnworth is (both as the protagonist and as the actor) is asked by a young cyclist what’s the worse part about being old. Farnsworth answers,
“Remembering what it was like when I was young.”
“Remembering what it was like when I was young.”
With the Christmas season upon us as I scurry around thinking about and buying the presents for my immediate family and a few friends I have been thinking about those Christmases past and what I gave and what I received. Things have really changed.
As a boy I received my share of socks, underwear and handkerchiefs. Only once did I really get what I wanted, an Erector set. I never was given that electric train. My mother could not afford it.
Through the years it is not only my wife who has realized that I am pretty good at thinking of presents for people. She and others consult me.
The primary rule I have for presents is never give something you would not like yourself. For this I must include the proviso that the fact that I may buy my Rosemary a black lace bra does not mean I would buy one for myself or wear it. But those who read this might understand. I have also been guilty of getting my wife an appliance (a much needed one) for Christmas. But I always tried to soften the cold blow with something frilly or sweet.
Rosemary pointed out that Mark’s Work Warehouse recently had a sale of men’s shirts with Scottish tartan patterns. The price was low and she thought that our granddaughter Rebecca, who now has a once a week job, might want to give her dad a present. We went to store and I chose the shirt I would wear. When we showed it to Rebecca she told us, “I don’t know. My father is picky. Was there anything gray or subdued?”
My daughter Hilary, Rebecca’s mother craves chocolates so we know that for Christmas we must be careful and not allow her to over-indulge. We must find an alternative plus it cannot possibly be a kitchen appliance! Hilary is also unlucky in that she is a December child and her birthday was today. Rosemary gave her a gift certificate for the works at her favourite beauty parlour.
Rebecca is a difficult 16-year old teenager. She needs boots. A few days ago we drove to Bellingham, Washington and visited Macy’s. At the women’s shoe department I pointed out over 20 beautiful pairs of boots. I asked Hilary if she knew her foot size. The answer was a short, “I wouldn’t know what she would like. She would have to be here.”
In another department I saw a be-jeweled (of the costume kind) dog collar with a little silver whistle hanging from it. I suggested that Rebecca might wear this and that the price was the right one. Both my wife and daughter looked at me as if I were crazy. They simply do not know what she would like. “She is a teenager,” they said in unison.
Besides all those socks, underwear and handkerchiefs I have received lots of useless presents in my life. I have never been nasty and told the giver what a terrible present any one of the items was.
From my eldest daughter Ale (who I believe may have inherited my talent for finding presents for difficult people) I have received not one but two wooden back scratchers. When I emerge from a hot bath, and especially in winter I immediately go for the scratcher. It (they) were a perfect gift and I remember my daughter every time I scratch.
Now consider the safe and convenient (and cold) gift certificate. Will Hilary remember when both Rosemary and I are long gone about that particular 2013 birthday gift? I can bet she will remember the two framed pictures of herself with her older sister that her older sister Ale called me about a few weeks ago to print and find frames for.
I believe that a gift has to be a tangible one. We cannot always be right and we do have the clichéé (more important now than ever) that it is the thought that counts.
In this wishy-washy politically correct time we must be cautious even in the buying of presents for our loved ones. We must not offend or disappoint. We must give “safe”. And with that half the reason for giving a gift is gone.
One of the gifts I will give my eldest daughter this Christmas is my Easterbrook pen. I bought it in Austin, Texas sometime in 1956.
In the 10th grade my English Literature teacher, at St. Ed’s a boarding school in Austin, Brother Dunstan Bowles, C.S.C. told me that my writing was illegible and that he would no longer correct my homework. In desperation I went to our librarian, Brother Myron Bachenheimer, C.S.C. with my problem. He told me to go to town and buy two Osmiroid, italic nibs, one small and one big. He further told me to buy red ink and black ink and an extra pen. He then taught me to write in italic. The big nib and the red ink were to make that first letter in the beginning of each paragraph. The smaller nib and the black ink were for the rest. In short order my homework essays resembled medieval manuscripts! And I received very good grades, too.
There is a possibility my daughter will not appreciate my gift.
But that chance is awfully slim. And I will keep the Osmiroids in reserve, just in case.