‘Tis the season to be jolly while heading toward debtors' prison. I have mixed feelings about Christmas presents. As a kid, I was shocked to find out there wasn't a Santa Claus because I couldn't imagine how my parents were able to buy all the gifts they gave their three daughters. When I got older, I found out they couldn't afford those gifts, despite my mother's dedicated evenings during the year of sitting at the kitchen table, filling up blue chip stamp booklets. I enjoy gifts, but I always feel slightly guilty receiving them.
A gift is wonderful because of the intent of affection. But how many gifts--the material things--are memorable? I decided to try and remember my favorite (or odd) Christmas gifts and see what came up.
A tape recorder. I was nine when I received this fabulous treasure. During Christmas dinner, I sneakily slid the recorder under the table, capturing the spicy, rollicking, eggnog-fueled comments made by Mom, Dad, Grandpa Percival, and Uncle Bob's southern belle girlfriend, Reb. I loved her accent, and she said whatever the hell she pleased, like everyone else in the family. Reb once hit and killed a deer with her station wagon and, hysterical, drove over to our house with the animal, its legs sticking out the windows. I ran out to the driveway to tape the ensuing mayhem. With my handy-dandy tape recorder, I spent hours interviewing family members and friends. Then I wrote the most interesting stories in my journal.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Santa Claus (Mom) gave me this novel. I don't remember how I knew about Plath. I was the only one in my family who liked to read. I still have this copy of the book, and when I leaf through it, I shiver. At thirteen, I was at the beginning of what would be my own difficult journey. It was the start of my parents' hard time with each other, too. Mom didn't know the author of The Bell Jar had committed suicide one month after the book's publication.
A leather skirt. I was twenty-nine. My mother raised her daughters to be good Catholic girls, so I was truly amazed when I lifted this tight, leather skirt, chocolate brown, out of the box. The skirt was on my Christmas list, but I never dreamed Mom would make it for me. She was an accomplished seamstress, and it was better than anything I'd tried on at Banana Republic.
A dildo. My married friends gave me this rather unusual gift. My best friend, Maureen, an elementary school teacher, disguising herself so no one in the small town where she lived would recognize her, went into the porn store by the railroad tracks to buy this precious item. When I opened it at the Christmas party, we all laughed, hahaha, but then I went home, alone as usual, with my dildo. I felt kind of sad getting a dildo for Christmas. It gave me pause over what was becoming of me. I'd been dating for what seemed like about two hundred years (see leather skirt above) although I was only thirty-one. Well, what the hay, get into the spirit, so I decided to try out the dildo, but I'd had more than a few glasses of champagne at the party and was too tired to make sense of dildo-technology, so I said forget it and went to sleep. In the morning, I woke up screaming. Something was buzzing and moving under my blanket. I slapped at it and jumped out of bed. Then I remembered. I left the room to get a glass of water and when I came back, the buzzing had stopped. Upon inspection, I discovered the dildo needed batteries. The dildo was closed for business. Happy new year.
Cards. Every Christmas, I can't wait to see the card my husband, Kenneth, will give me. He selects the best, and what he says inside never fails to thrill. Cards, clothes, food. He knows my style, my taste, he takes care to give and make what fits his gal. Seventeen years of love from my beloved chef. I have everything I have ever wanted.
A mink jacket. A gift from my father to my mother. Now, I'm going back in time to when I was eight. Mom had been in bed for six months because of a back injury. She would have to learn to walk again. We ensconced her in front of the Christmas tree in a chaise lounge decorated with ornaments and tinsel, and Dad gave her a big pink box with a matching satin bow. "A frying pan, Jeanne," he said. I know mink is politically incorrect, but this was the 1960's and no one knew anything. I was still young enough to believe Santa must have helped Dad get this expensive jacket. When Mom opened the box, her face was a glory. Much hugging and kissing. Frank Sinatra on the stereo, singing, Fly Me to the Moon, one of my parents' favorite songs.
Happiness. Peace. What I want for Christmas, what I always wanted: to see my family and friends happy, peaceful. To be with them. I don't want anything for Christmas but this. Except maybe batteries.
Causes Susan Browne Supports
Run Together, A Race to Raise Money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society