Thursday, November 12, 2009

List: Gifts

I've been thinking about gifts and giving recently; after all, it's almost the season. My four siblings and I have been drawing names for an exchange for many years, and now that we're all married, our spouses are included too. This year, we're using the theme "Memories" to guide our gift giving/conceiving/making for one another. I'm torn between conjuring artifacts of past good times and the opportunity to facilitate new ones.

Meanwhile, I think of the memorable gifts I've given and of which I've been the lucky recipient; I can't be alone in feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of cataloging the bounty of my family's and friends' generosity. But here are a few examples that spring quickly to mind:

1. The Six-Pack of Pacifico: When we bought our house and escrow closed, some friends of ours--not even friends we see every day--were waiting on the curb with beer when we pulled up with our keys. It was a wonderful, sweet surprise. And a unique moment we got to share with them because they took the time to honor it.

2. The Running Watch: One of the best friends I made when I lived in Washington, D.C. as a young college grad and Teach for America teacher was Robin. Robin was a bit older than I, but a fellow runner and marathoner-in-training; we met at a local running apparel store that hosted a weekly training run. For the next three years Robin and I were regular running partners and confidantes. When I prepared to leave D.C. to teach in Africa, Robin gave me a gift. When someone leaves you, he shared, you should give her something that you will miss, something symbolic of your time together. Robin gave me his running watch, which had a beautiful woven nylon strap and which I know he loved. I wore it till the battery needed replacing; now I save it to remember Robin and his philosophy behind the gift: sacrifice and give truly.

3. Art: We are fortunate to have incredible artists as friends as well as to work in the company of talented student artists. My friend Sarah has given us a number of her paintings over the years, including a pair of aerial landscapes as a wedding gift. My sister-in-law's stepmother went to Kenya right before we got married, and my brother and sister-in-law commissioned her to paint a gorgeous work called Bride Price, which features Maasai women and cattle on wood. One former student framed and gave me his photograph of Buddha, and another painted me a second version of a painting I admired.

4. My Sister's "34" Email: For my 34th birthday, my sister sent me a list of 34 things I have accomplished in my life, among them, successfully "sunscreening a smiley face" onto my stomach one family vacation. There are thirteen years between my sister and me, but that email reminds me how close we are nonetheless.

5. Wedding Vows: My husband blew me--and our guests--away with the vows he wrote and shared on our wedding day. For our fifth anniversary, he asked my sister to hand write them and sketch our wedding flowers, gerber daisies, onto watercolor paper and framed them for me.

6. Grandpa's Almond-Wood Box: My grandfather was a carpenter, among his many talents and vocations. For one of my birthdays when I was a teen, he gave me a red-velvet-lined jewelry box made of almond wood. It's simple and elegant and a treasure to me.

7. Dataman: I got Dataman for Christmas when I was maybe seven years old. I loved that calculator; a nerdy first generation video game, it was all math, and my favorite game was one in which you guessed which number Dataman was "thinking" of. When I mentioned that Dataman was one of my fave toys as a kid, my bff set off secretly to find it online and order me one. She revealed her plot only when she was unsuccessful in locating the near-extinct species. But that was one of the best gifts someone never gave me, and the thought is what counts.

8. Wedding Quilt: Our dear friend and honorary family member Auntie T has been an important part of every stage of our lives, particularly our wedding. She organized my bachelorette sleepover party (and baked the penis cake, ahem), bought and arranged our flowers, and sewed us the most amazing wedding quilt, with fabric from her world travels and hand-embroidered poems and favorite quotations. It's been on our bed ever since.

9. Tiffany Daisy Earrings: Preparing to walk down the aisle at my wedding, I had the assistance of both parents. My mother attached my veil and arranged my train--her very own, as I wore her wedding dress. My father brought out a signature robin-blue Tiffany jewelry box and gave me a pair of earrings--daisies with tiny diamonds in the center--the same flowers on my mother's vintage 60s gown and in my bouquet. The emotional moment that ensued held up the ceremony and had many wondering if I had cold feet and left my husband-to-be, standing and staring at our crowd of friends and family as our violinists continued to play. I love my earrings and wear them daily in my 'second piercing' holes.

10. Various Books: Some of the most meaningful gifts I've received over the years have been books, sometimes because of their significance at the time or insights into the person who gave them. Most recently, a year of McSweeney's selections and David Foster Wallace's This Is Water, a surprise from a colleague. Also: A collection of Pablo Neruda's poetry, a hardcover copy of Huckleberry Finn, Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder, Fooling with Words by Bill Moyers, and Franny and Zooey.

And one of my favorite gifts to give (I think I've passed on more than ten volumes): The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara.

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