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Gifts that keep on giving feelings of disbelief

By Minx McCloud

Even though I'm an adult, there's something about seeing those presents under the Christmas tree that still makes my heart pitter-patter. Of course, it could be all the salt-laden snacks we put out that make my blood pressure pound like a bongo drum, but I prefer to think it's the gifts.

However, when it comes to gift giving, we've all been guilty of at least one mistake. I've learned that an uncle who is about to undergo an angioplasty because of clogged arteries is less than thrilled to receive a gift membership in the "Cheese of the Month" club. I blame my aunt for keeping his surgery such a secret.

I also probably shouldn't have given my slightly paranoid father an expensive water filter for his new house. He started out by declaring Connecticut water the clearest and cleanest he had ever tasted, but quickly spiraled downward into doubt, asking me where I had got my information and if there was something I knew that he didn't.


My parents are usually at a loss as to what to buy Jim, so there's at least one necktie per holiday. Jim no longer wears ties unless he has an important business meeting or a funeral to attend, and if he did attend either of those functions, he most certainly would not wear the iridescent aqua, green, black and silver tie they gave him six years ago. (If he had stood in front of a black light, everyone would have started singing "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida.")

All gifts for my elderly parents have to be practical because they simply don't need anything they have to dust or maintain. Gifts for my mom have included an electric throw for her shoulders, since she's always cold; greeting cards that my father can fill out for her to send to friends and relatives; and baskets of her favorite delicacies, from smoked oysters to tiny seashell-shaped chocolates.

Jim and I have received some awful gifts, but not once have we ever exchanged or returned them. We've always felt that if someone buys you something they think you'll like, you have to keep it for the rest of your life. It's just the right thing to do. (Of course, there's no rule against consigning it to a closet or drawer and never looking at it again.)

My parents are usually at a loss as to what to buy Jim, so there's at least one necktie per holiday. Jim no longer wears ties unless he has an important business meeting or a funeral to attend, and if he did attend either of those functions, he most certainly would not wear the iridescent aqua, green, black and silver tie they gave him six years ago. (If he had stood in front of a black light, everyone would have started singing "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida.")

"Yeah," my dad said happily, "some guy was selling these for half price out of a tent he set up." (At the circus, no doubt.)

After this glow-in-the dark monstrosity, we were prepared when the following year, they gave Jim the cat tie. Both of us love cats, but Jim does not care to advertise it with a tie emblazoned with wide-eyed kitties that look as if they were drawn by the same guy who does those sad-eyed waifs on black velvet. Likewise, the butterfly tie, which we use to tie shut the door of the cat's room now that the latch is broken.

My own monstrosity is something I was given by my mother -- a Snowbaby. She told me it's a collectible, but I doubt it since not many collectibles are made in Taiwan. Now, knowing I've never had children and am not particularly fond of babies, don't you think Mom would know better than to give me a white porcelain, snow-suited baby holding a Christmas wreath? There's a whole series of Snowbabies, each uglier than the last, unless you think babies are adorable, which I don't. Every baby I've ever held has left me wearing vomit or excrement. My friends say children sense fear. I don't analyze the reasons anymore; I just avoid babies.

I keep the Snowbaby though, rather than selling it to a collector (snicker), because I know that someday my mom will be gone, and I'll take that Snowbaby out of the box when I'm feeling lonely and laugh until I cry!

I also have a Hawaiian "thing" that somebody gave me, but I really don't remember who. It's 3 feet tall with carved pineapples and has three tiers with little wooden bowls. I was told that you use it at a luau to serve poi and sauces and other stuff that Jim and I have never considered eating, nor have we even toyed with the idea of hosting a luau. I used it at one party to serve M&Ms, nuts, dips and a bunch of other snacks, but my friends laughed so hard that it is permanently stashed in a corner of the basement.

That's one gift I would consider selling at a garage sale if I could only remember who gave it to me. Then I could guarantee they wouldn't catch me ditching it. However, if I ever recall who gave it to me, it might be someone I was very fond of, and then the gift will take on the dreaded "sentimental value." I'll have to keep it. So, it sits in the cellar.

I guess everyone has at least one gift that is too terrible to display. It molders in the attic until dear old Aunty Jane comes for a visit and expects to see it in the living room. And all of us have given at least one gift where the person opening it does a slight double take and then manages a sickly grin and a forced "Oh wow. I've always wanted one of these."

Some folks wonder what goes through the giver's mind. Did they even THINK about the gift? I believe it's just that we get so busy that we don't keep in touch like we used to. When it comes time to show our affection with a gift, we've lost touch with our loved one's interests or needs. Maybe we should make an early New Year's resolution to pick up the phone and call someone we haven't spoken to for a while, but still exchange gifts with.

We can ask a few questions, hint around a little bit, and perhaps we won't end up giving Cousin Mitzi a book called "A Wedding Ceremony to Remember: Perfect Words for the Perfect Wedding" three months after her fiancÚ dumps her.


Minx McCloud is a free-lance journalist who writes about life in New Jersey. She can be reached at mccloudnj@aol.com. To see her most recent column, click here.

This article is copyright 2001 by Minx McCloud and appears here with both her permission and the permission of The Princeton Packet.

May we also suggest:
"Say 'Humbug' to exchanging gifts this year"