TALES FROM THE CAVE FAMILY: SURPRISES V. PRACTICALITY
A Harvest of Gifts
Looking back at Christmas, the family tree is central to my memories. Once the tree appeared in all its glory, presents began to blossom around it. My mom was an extraordinary gift wrapper. Each present was a small masterpiece, one you almost hated to destroy by opening it, but as I grew older, each wrapping hid a secret I wasn’t quite at peace with. I already knew what was inside.
I love surprises. My fondest Christmas memory is the year Santa filled our living room with Barbie clothes and paraphernalia. It was no surprise Santa would come, but the sheer visible impact of all the pink boxes stays with me until today. He was never quite as generous with me again. Instead, slowly but surely, Mom picked up the slack with more practical offerings.
Somehow Christmas became the setting for me getting what I needed, rather than an explosion of surprises. I realize the love that went into the gesture. I just wanted a little fun.
Christmas Shopping with Mom
When Mom was still working, we’d arrange for me to come to her store and scope out my Christmas list. I’d try on clothes, show her things I was interested in and tell her the stuff I wanted/needed that wasn’t sold at Titche’s/Joske’s/Dillard’s. From my selections, Mom would pick out the things she wanted to get for me. While this wasn’t as exciting as the pink Barbie boxes, there was an element of surprise to it.
But then I noticed a trend. Instead of trying on several outfits and allowing Mom to choose which she preferred, I realized she wanted me to nail down the exact pieces to buy. As we walked around the store discussing other possible gifts, she went ahead an made the purchases right then and there.
And so the struggle began. We began a series of conversations in which I expressed how important the element of surprise was to me and Mom tried to convince me it was more important to be practical and allow her to purchase exactly what I picked out. No resolution was ever reached. She continued to require me to pick out exactly what I wanted for Christmas and I secretly wished for a surprise.
There was one more thing about this process I haven’t mentioned. I was supposed to act surprised when I opened my gifts. It began as a sort of joke, but as the years passed, it wasn’t all that funny.
Along the way, she also started picking out what I was going to give her. Some time in October or November, long before I actually thought about Christmas, she’d say, “I saw this great Liz Claiborne/Ralph Lauren/Jones New York blazer/suit/trousers/skirt on the End of the Month sale rack. With my discount it only cost $_____. I thought you might want to give it to me for Christmas.”
I really didn’t. I really wanted to go out and pick out something myself. Something she wouldn’t have thought of for herself. Something that wouldn’t have been bought with her discount. Something sensational, extraordinary and personal. But then I would remember her oft-repeated mantras about practicality. Even though she couldn’t bring herself to give me what I wanted (a surprise), she had provided me the opportunity to give her exactly the practical gift she had picked out for herself.
So, I’d say, “Sure Mom. I’ll pay you for it next time I’m at the house and take it home with me so I can wrap it.” The things we do for love.
We did a lot of things for love at 10935 Carissa. When you walk into the house much of that love still echoes in the halls, but it is getting fainter. It’s time for a new family to come and make it their home. The Cave traditions need to be traded out for new ones. Won’t you come take a look and see if you are the right family for my house?