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Gifts That Keep On Giving

July 21, 2011

Oh, thank you for this hat, Aunt Lela. And for giving me the one made for a 19th century female train engineer.

You’re going to think I’m crazy here, but I happen to believe my daughter is the reincarnated human pod formation of my dearly loved and highly eccentric great-aunt Lela who passed away several years back.  If Margot, whom we sometimes call Little Lela, were to one day greet me with a jar of strawberry rhubarb jam and a defrosted noodle casserole on the table, I could confirm this with absolute certainty.

If you were to meet my daughter, you might for a second think you’ve accidentally set foot in the church basement meeting room of a 1955 quilting club.  Aside from always being impeccably dressed in her Sunday best for every occasion, she enjoys using expressions such as “oh, my goodness gracious!” and often puts her index finger to the corner of her mouth when she’s thinking.    

Just like Aunt Lela, Little Lela is the one at the party making sure everyone has been greeted and is sitting where they’re supposed to be, while she controls every minute of what happens next.  Like Aunt Lela, Little Lela makes a distinctive tongue clicking sound in between her pauses in sentences – of which there are many.  Many, many.  That sound used to grate on me as a teenager.  Now I get the pleasure of hearing it as an adult.  Every single day. 

Little Lela, like Aunt Lela, also has a knack for giving me gifts that I just as soon toss on the back of a flat bed truck bound for Ontario.  Now, before you get all “awwww, someday you’ll treasure those things!” on me, just hear me out.  I’m not talking about that splendid refrigerator art of a giant-headed stick figure floating across a green pipe cleaner lawn.  No, Margot saves that good stuff for grandparents or cousins. 

What I’m referring to is:  1.) the tiny scrap of paper she accidentally tore off her refrigerator art – rough-edged with bleedy marker smudges, 2.) a Post-It note that she spent 2.5 seconds drawing haphazard lines on before sticking it to a magazine subscription card she found on the bathroom floor, 3.) a small sewn-on bow that popped off the back of her tights, 4.) a shriveled petal that fell off the flower she gave to someone else, and 5.) a Chiquita banana sticker that attached itself to the bottom of her shoe at the grocery store. 

Then she runs and hands the gift to me with a look of wholesome satisfaction – “Look what I got/found/made for you!” – preparing for me to at that very moment break into a sprint in the direction of my jewelry box so I can encase the item in a silver locket and wear it around my neck, right near my heart, for always.  Instead, I quietly “put it away” inside the large box of decomposing vegetable peelings under my kitchen sink.   Only, that’s often not the end of the gift.  Nope.  Sometimes she’s rummaging around the recycling bin in our laundry room days later and finds something we “accidentally” threw away.  And the cycle of life continues.  On and on.  Until we finally throw lighter fluid on it and torch it.

Level 7. No, I really mean it - you shouldn't have.

While Aunt Lela’s gift-giving was certainly kind, generous and good intentioned, her gifts also registered high on a 1 to 10 “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” scale (see photos for reference guide).  Often times these gifts were “variety packages,” a phrase lovingly coined by my brother.  Never could you imagine a more random mish-mash assortment of items in one box.  A tube of Pepsodent toothpaste, a pair of red fuzzy earmuffs, a can of halved pears in light syrup, kitten-printed stationery and a 1980 Mr. Magoo wall calendar, never mind the fact that it was 1981.

Level 3 (After all, it is useful I suppose.)

My favorite gifts were ones I received in junior high that included kitchen and bathroom accessories.  Perhaps I should’ve taken it as a hint that, at age 13, the time had come to get off my lazy butt, move out from under my parents’ roof, and make a life for myself.  I could get my own apartment with my own bathroom in which to hang my ruffled guest fingertip towels.  There I could also decorate with my wall plaque shaped like a handled cutting board that featured a smug overweight mouse and most likely a clever poem dealing with food and ending with “house.” 

Level 9, without a doubt.

More times than I care to remember, my gift would include something centered on the fact that I owned a cat.  Yes, I like cats – for companionship.  But I don’t want to eat on them, write on them, sit on them, sleep on them, or wash with them.  I especially don’t want to wear them.  On a sweatshirt.  With a sewn-in collar.  When I’m 24. 

Level 10, are you kidding me?

In high school, my brother once got an unsightly 1970s garage sale shirt from Aunt Lela.  Doing the honorable thing, he dumped off the shirt in our small town’s second-hand store.  That way, some less fortunate child could have the same opportunity Tony had been given to look like a total outcast from society. 

The very next Christmas, my brother received the same shirt.  I am not kidding you.  The same one.  Only, this time around he put it in a trash dumpster.  And then he lit it on fire – just to be sure it was good and dead.  Nonetheless, I’m fairly certain the shirt was made from a special polyurethane substance that would allow it to both extinguish itself and regenerate arms.  So I have speculated that, just like the phoenix bird, it later rose from the fiery ashes of that dumpster to be born anew. 

I believe it is quite possible that, much like my recent gift of a pizza sauce-stained kids’ menu from Pizza Hut partially colored with an orange crayon, we have not seen the last of that shirt.  Yes, some future Christmas, Uncle Tony just might receive from his eccentric niece that shirt.  And in that same gift box – a can of peanut brittle, a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle of a lighthouse, and a lavender crocheted tissue box cover.


I had my brother fact-check this story and he brought up a few of his own variety package highlights:

A denim vest with imitation sheep’s wool on the inside.  Playing cards with puppies on them.  (I think those were in the same box with the denim vest.)  A bingo game.  (Because, Aunt Lela said, “I know you don’t like those rough boy games.”)  A cheap wooden windmill set.  A toothbrush.  Gold nail clippers (so I could give manicures).  How embarrassing.  Actually I still have the gold nail clippers. They are my favorite set!

My brother would probably want me to add here that for the record he loves football, red meat and home renovation projects.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2011 8:16 pm

    Great stuff as usual! But sis, that shirt in the photo is way too hip. That’s Miami Vice era. My shirt was from the golden age of Welcome Back Kotter. I have checked your other facts though and everything else is right on target. (Especially the part about my football/red meat fetish.)

    • July 21, 2011 8:23 pm

      I know – you’re right! But through the lens of 2011, this looks as ugly as it gets. I wish for the love of God I could see that shirt again…maybe I will.

  2. July 21, 2011 9:00 pm

    Haha!!! She (they) totally reminds me of my ex-mother-in-law who, one Christmas, gave me a “care package” that included tampons, wooden spoons and a nighty that was similar to one I’d seen my Grandma wear in the 80s!!! Needless to say, I don’t necessarily miss those care packages :)

    • July 21, 2011 9:04 pm

      Call it a care package but that sure sounds like a variety package to me, the kind that my Aunt Lela would be proud to put her name on. Sweet!

  3. LaVonna permalink
    July 22, 2011 9:01 am

    That is why I give ‘money’. Don’t want to have something written about me in 25 years about what was in the box I gave you. Ha!! Ha!! I know we all got some laughs from the aunt Lela ‘gifts’. The first couple years after we got married (53 yrs ago Wed) I would recieve a gift, but Russ wouldn’t OR he would recieve a gift that was definately only for me but with his name on it! May she rest in peace and we pray there are no empty boxes laying around in heaven (won’t be empty long)! Thanks! Angie.


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