You know how there are some people who reach a certain, magical age and they suddenly feel like they can say or do anything without consequence? Like time has granted them a pass and they are allowed to be awful? I have one of these dear, lovely women in my life. In addition to giving me an abundance of wonderful backhanded compliments and advice, she gives some of the most interesting gifts.
I guess I earned one of the gifts. While visiting her one summer, this lady asked me if I could cook a turkey. I told her that I had not ever attempted to before. Shocked, she stared at me incredulously. “How do you feed your family then?!” she asked. The internet, of course. If I want to make something that I have never made before and I need a recipe, I google it. Besides, there is a lot more to cooking than turkeys. Just because I have never prepared a turkey does not mean that I cannot cook. Later that year at Christmas, I was given a cookbook. The gift itself was a nice gesture. It contained old recipes from local families and was sold to raise money to fund the volunteer firehouse. However, after unwrapping it, she was sure to inform me that I was to read it so that I could learn to finally feed my family.
My two boys are my world. Zeke and Eli are loved, fed, and clothed. They are never neglected. I have worked hard to instill respect and good morals into their growing brains. They are mostly well-behaved except for their sarcastic attitude and constant banter. (I take responsibility for and personally enjoy these qualities.) If anyone reads my articles or listens to our podcasts, I mention my sons fairly often. Yet one year, she got me a book on how to raise sons. I choose to believe that she meant well. She raised three sons herself and I think she might have been trying to show solidarity.
Preparing for another Christmas, she called my husband, Jesse, and asked him if I liked candles. He flippantly told her that all girls like candles. That year when I opened my gift I found partially used votive and pillar candles that she had gotten “super cheap” at a thrift shop. I politely thanked her and said that they would be very useful if the electricity ever goes out. I actually still have these candles in my cabinet in case of an emergency. A person only has to go through one ice storm and 2 weeks without power before learning to be equipped for a prolonged outage.
The gifts have been a little more successful here recently. Year before last, she gave me a tiny gift basket. It contained one holiday printed hand towel and a little ceramic snowman that was approximately 3 inches tall. I am pretty sure that this was also a thrift store deal and not a terrible one at that. It had not been used and was not blatantly insulting. Yet, it was not something for me that appealed to me. I later gave it to someone who could better appreciate it.
Recently, I received a very special gift from her. This lovely lady called me and asked what ring size I wear. When I told her that I wear a size 7 ring, she became very excited. She explained to me that she had a beloved ring that she wanted to pass on to me. It was a gift from her husband early in their marriage. She wanted to make sure it was given to someone who would value it. I was truly surprised when she gave it to me. It was an amethyst set in sterling silver. It was something that I would have picked out for myself. I would willingly and happily wear it. I felt that it was a true honor to be given a family heirloom and promised her that I would one day pass it down to a new generation. It was at that point that she explained that I was the last choice to receive the ring. She believed that her granddaughter would think it was too cheap. The ring was too small for my sister-in-law. Therefore, the ring was mine my default.
This elderly, but feisty, woman has been a part of my life for over thirteen years now. She gives terrible gifts and thinly veiled insults freely. She poses us like dolls for pictures every time we visit. And for the last 9 years, she has insisted on spelling Eli’s name Ely. She drives me somewhat crazy. Despite these things, she calls me every year on my birthday. She never fails to ask me about how my mother and siblings are doing. She is always urging me to continue my education. She makes lemon pies because she knows that it is mine and my husband’s favorite. She teaches me about cattle farming because it is her passion. It is impossible to leave her house without taking home some fresh vegetables from the garden or beef from her farm. Essentially, she is a conundrum. While she is the worst gift giver I have ever met, she shows her love and concern very clearly in other ways. It is a significant reminder that the important thing is not the gift. In a nod to the cliché, it is the thought that counts.