FIRST PERSON Oh… You Shouldn’t Have

Ye shall know them by what they give you- like it or not.

Okay. imagine this. A bright red cowgirl outfit, complete with shiny fringe, embroidered yoke, pearl buttons, and white Hopalong Cassidy hat. Then imagine me in that outfit. Not me as a little girl dreaming of stealing Roy away from Dale. Me as of a few years ago. No horse. I’m scared of horses.

Or picture me wrapped in a floor-length scrape made of horse blanket.

Or wearing two pounds of heavyweight metal-iron, reckon?-earrings shaped like cattle brands. I thought at first they were hieroglyphics, but nope. Cattle brands.

Boy, did that man, one of my two ex-husbands, come up with some weird Christmas presents. But he did his Christmas shopping at his friend’s annual Christmas Eve office party, and his friend’s office happened to be a western wear store.

Wayne, a non-husband with whom I was seriously involved for a few serious years, gave very generous gifts. For instance, once he gave me an expensive user-unfriendly camera because, he pointed out, serious photographers much prefer the freedom of doing their own focusing, adjusting, etc., but the thing is, I’m strictly a point-and-shoot type of person, better suited to the much cheaper, any-fool-can-operate kind.

“You hardly have anything in your kitchen,” he said another Christmas, offering up a huge, intimidating Cuisinart. “I bet now you’ll like to cook.” The computer modem he picked out-now, that, I needed. I really did. And I couldn’t afford to buy one, either, but.. .well, you know.. .for Christmas?

Later, I thought about the gifts he gave and realized that in spite of our intense time together, our promises and plans, he didn’t know me very well. In his mind, he was giving these presents to a woman who liked computers and gadgets as much as he did. Someone who was a great cook. Someone, I realized, he hadn’t met yet.

Gift-giving is a mysterious ritual, one that often results in a big smile for the giver and an awkward moment for the givee-a moment that can reveal so much in a relationship.

I hope you don’t think I’m ungrateful. I’m not, really. It’s just that Gary set an astounding precedent all those many years ago, back when we were tenth-graders, and hardly a man has managed to match his magic. What he gave me was something so romantic, so feminine, so luxurious, so wonderful that only italics can do it justice. A set of delicate pink Angora sweaters.

Totally inappropriate. Totally unlike me. And totally impractical. Why, my mother never, never would have bought me anything like that. Naturally, for all those reasons, especially the last, I loved those sweaters and remained happily oblivious to the Angora wisps and fluffs that continually floated cloud-like over my skirts, the furniture, the car seat, even Gary.

It’s odd what we remember, isn’t it? Like the inexpensive joke-gifts my dad frequently gave, along with funny notes that let me know, for instance, that when as a teenager I asked for my own car and unwrapped a child’s toy version, that it wasn’t meant as a mockery but as a wish that he could offer the real thing. I’m not so sure the startling, lifelike cardboard grandchild my son gave me last year was so sentimentally offered. No. It was a plain old joke, pure and simple, but I love it anyway.

My son’s a realty unpredictable gift-giver. Take the ten-foot-tall Godzilla that four years later still scares the bejeezus out of me.

“Why don’t you take the thing down?” friends ask when I complain.

Are you kidding? He’s family, for one thing. Besides, returning gifts is bad manners. Gifts, to me, are the extras of life. They’re not something to which you’re entitled; if one turns out to be something for which you’ve pined forever, hot dog. But I’d no more exchange one item for another I liked better than I’d stand you up for a dinner date. Well, I did take back the red cowgirl outfit. With clear conscience, too. It’s not nice to wait until Christmas Eve to buy your wife a present, nor is it nice to do so when you’re in your cups. Oh, 1 took back that cowgirl outfit, all right.

And sometimes, those gifts that initiallyseemed wrong turn out to be right. I dideventually develop a mild interest in cooking,and I put the modem to use almost daily. Infact, I’ve enjoyed both the Cuisinart and themodem much longer than I would have enjoyed oh, let’s say, just for old time’s sake,something impractical, something, for instance, like a set of delicate pink Angorasweaters. Hint, hint.

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