Gifts, holidays, and me

26 Nov

Once upon a time, I shopped months in advance, stashing gifts and saving them for the special occasion.

Then, a hard lesson was learned one day.  There isn’t always a tomorrow, and sometimes, we don’t realize that we’re hugging someone for the very last time.  It changed a lot about me.

One thing it changed was the whole Christmas thing.

I still buy “Christmas” gifts, but I’m apt to not bother waiting to give them.  What’s the point of waiting, if its something the recipient truly needs or wants?  If it isn’t something they need or want, what’s the point of giving it to them anyhow?

So with today being the biggest shopping day of the year, I ventured out, long after the big buys were picked over and the fights over stuff resolved.  I heard some wild tales from shop clerks too!  I also bought a few gift items, and several items for us.  Some of them were on sale…and some really weren’t.

Before Thanksgiving, I had “borrowed” a friend’s kitchen for space to prepare things we were going to serve the next day.  Instead of packing my mixer, I’d just used hers.  In the process, I noticed that it was more than a little bit wheezy, seemed to be shorting out in the switch, and the motor was overheating.  None of this bode well for the small mixer.  Since I also knew that they were having a hard time financially, it was an easy guess what to give her as a small gift.

Another inexpensive hand mixer was ideal.  (She isn’t a heavy mixer user to begin with.)    Sure, Walmart had one on sale for $4, but it was truly a “wimpy” one.  I paid a bit more for a bit more power and speed, along with a few other useful features.   The other one was likely to start smoking the next time she tried to use it, and it barely had enough power to beat anything anymore.  Sure, it would make a pretty package under the tree…and what would she use to make her cakes and cookies for Christmas?

Colder weather is coming, and that means heavier clothes.  A new jacket, sweatshirt, or pair of sweat pants can make a chilly house (heat costs money, and everyone is economizing too) feel much cozier.  I found some on sale…and should the intended recipient just freeze until then?

Some people say that saving the gifts is necessary, otherwise people will forget that you gave it to them.  I can’t help but wonder…am I supposed to remember each and every gift forever and ever that anyone has ever given me?  Some of the most memorable gifts, largely because of the need that it was filling, that I ever received…I don’t even know who gave them to me.

One December, long ago, we’d been living on very little money.  I had two young children.  We qualified for food stamps, and I had applied, but for some reason, the delivery of the food stamps was delayed.  (I don’t remember why after all this time.)  I had received a month’s worth at the initial application, but for the next three months, we received nothing.  We had eaten beans for dinner and oatmeal for breakfast for so long, some days, I wondered if we were going to start sprouting beans and oats from our hair.  Even things like milk, vegetables, and fruit had become luxuries rarely seen in our house, and nobody could remember the last time we’d eaten meat.  Someone took pity on us, and a friend delivered several bags of groceries.  It had things like hamburger, eggs, milk, cold cereal, fruit, vegetables, and even pasta in it.  It was more food than we normally could afford for two weeks of meals, and seemed like absolute luxury.  It saved us from the beans and oatmeal, and later that month, we received four months of food stamps all at once.  To me, it seemed so ridiculous, to receive it all at once, as I wondered what whichever government agency had delayed their delivery for so long had thought about their slow response and then sudden wealth in terms of food.  Did they think we just hung ourselves in a closet and waited it out?  Even so, I’m not sure if it was a church (the friend said it was) or if she had done the deed herself.  Either way, she made sure a need was filled, even though I was trying hard to hold things together without appearing “needy”.  Either way, it wasn’t Christmas yet, and I’ve never forgotten someone’s kindness, even if I don’t know who was responsible.

One gift wasn’t even close to Christmas.  It was actually the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, on the interstate near Tucumcari, New Mexico.  I was driving a little blue station wagon and pulling a small UHaul trailer.  We were moving back to Arizona.  The car was loaded, the trailer was loaded, and I had two kids and two cats in the car.  We had a tire blow out as soon as I got over 55 mph, and the trailer whipped behind me.  I managed to get it under control and pulled off to the side of the road.  There, I was faced with the reality of unloading the back portion of the station wagon to get to the spare and the jack.  That was tough, but a pair of saviors appeared out of nowhere.

A man and his son stopped to help us, and they carefully set things on the roadside as we dug out the necessary items.  Then, to my dismay, the car was too low for the jack, requiring us to actually lift it by the tongue on the trailer.  The tire was changed, the sun blazed down on us, and then I was off again, with no spare left.  The added stress of the trailer behind us had literally chewed that tire to death, and I was worried sick as I drove on, unable to afford a new spare as the entire trip had cost over three times what I had anticipated.  We made it…with about $5 in change left.  That man and his son were the angels that saved me that day, and I’ve never forgotten the good deed they did.

Sometimes it’s something concrete, sometimes its something that someone does, but we all have received something unexpected and yet badly needed during our lives.  Doing small things for others, giving small (or large) things to others…that’s all part of paying it forward.  That’s part of being a good person too.

Sometimes, our efforts backfire though, and leaves us questioning everything.  A few years ago, we were going to get rid of an old car we had.  It ran, it was dependable, but (don’t tell Greg I said this) it was really ugly.  Despite being in good mechanical repair, after sitting unused for several months, it required some repairs.  We had a friend (we thought anyhow) who had an adult daughter who had recently had surgery for breast cancer and was struggling.  We offered to sell her the car for a very low fee, and on payments.  The car was worth more on the open market, but we did want them to feel that they had bought the car rather than they had received it as some sort of “charity.”

Their down payment was used to buy the parts to fix the car, and it was soon running.  They came to pick it up and transfer the title, and it was a done deal…we didn’t even put a lien on the car for the remaining money owed–it just wasn’t worth the hassle of the paperwork, and after all, they were friends.

The next day, we began receiving ranting, rude phone calls, demanding the money back and claiming we’d “ripped them off.”  Greg went to see what was wrong with it, and saw that the muffler/tailpipe had been ripped loose.  It needed re-attached, and probably had occurred when they’d gone over a railroad crossing they had had to cross.  Not a big deal, and normally, he’d have struggled to fix it for them, but the phone calls continued, along with the statement that they had a mechanic friend/relative/acquaintance who claimed there was some serious problem with the car and motor parts had fallen off, etc.  The last straw was when the friend is talking to me on the phone and demanding the refund, adding the statement that I had set a price on the friendship.  I was done.  There couldn’t be a refund, we’d spent the money on the parts to make sure it was reliable for her.  There was no reasoning with any of them, the angry had moved on to rabid cursing.

Even selling a car below value to someone you know is a recipe for disaster.  We both knew this, and yet, we thought to ignore that age old wisdom and help somebody out.  We still ended up being the bad guy and just walked away from the car and the friendship.  The entire deal had cost us a lot, and not just in terms of money and time.  I’ll admit, for a while, I was pretty cynical about helping other people…and we had an entire string of events that said that helping others just leads to being labeled the bad guy, and it was hard to keep on trying.

Some people are takers, some are givers, and some people are just plain so ornery that nobody wants to give them anything or take anything they want to give.  I just remind myself of the way I had Santa Claus explained to me all those years ago.

Santa Claus gives without ever expecting anything in return, not even a thanks.  As such, he is the perfect example of charity and giving.

We all need a little bit of Santa in our souls, I think.

 

 

 

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