David and I opened presents Christmas afternoon.
I got lots of cats. Faux cats: cat calendars from an old and dear friend; cat socks and a “book throw” dotted with cats, from David. I also received Jeopardy socks and sloth socks and a backdrop.
Last year David gave me a tote bag with a sloth on it, the source of many compliments from oncology nurses. The sloth socks make me think there might be a subtext brewing, though; if there is, it’s justified.
The backdrop is designed to make Zoom friends think I live a more picturesque life. The apartment walls are pink, a pleasant pink, the same pink of the living room and dining room in the house I grew up in, but as background on Zoom they look sick. My computer doesn’t have the oomph to support a “virtual background.” Dear husband has taken care of that. All we have to do now is stick the backdrop on the wall where the camera can find it.
William and Ernest received catnip mice. Ernest said his was okay but no big deal—he doesn’t do drugs—and headed for the litter box. William was delighted with his mouse, started batting it around, but was distracted by the sound of Ernest scrabbling around in the litter box and abandoned the mouse to listen. Returning, Ernest swatted the mouse once but by then William was in the litter box, and Ernest had to pay attention. They are social animals. So much for the mice.
About that first sentence: I never imagined writing it. In my youth, presents were a morning thing. The adults were so excited that they dragged us out of bed about four o’clock in the morning—no exaggeration—because Santa Claus had come and they couldn’t wait. No breakfast—we had to see what Santa had brought!
No one argued with them.
Correction: most of the adults. My father wasn’t quite so eager. He woke daily without an alarm before six a.m.—farm hours, even though he hadn’t farmed full-time since before World War II—but he didn’t wake up until he’d had two strips of bacon, fried; two eggs, basted; two pieces of buttered toast; and two cups of coffee, black with sugar. Then he achieved consciousness. Christmas morning for him was modified torment. He participated in the Santa part—I think Mother provided him with coffee—but waiting for breakfast was probably like being a kid and having to wait to open presents.
I was thinking the other day about Christmas presents I’ve received. Off the top of my head:
Doll beds with blue-and-white blankets my mother made. She backed them with white flannel.
A little stove with a real oven and tiny cake pans and a tiny box of cake mix.
A pogo stick.
Dolls. My mother loved dolls, so I got one every Christmas. The one when I was eight came wearing a white lace bride’s dress. She also owned a white blouse and some black velvet slacks.
But more than the presents are the memories that accompany them.
The doll blankets lasted for years after I’d put away the dolls. A lot of kittens and puppies were bundled up in them.
My cousin Lynn, about twelve when I got the oven, spent Christmas vacation with us and helped make that little bitty cake.
I tried out the pogo stick in the street in front of our house on Christmas Day but couldn’t make it work. I never played with it because it was so sturdy—my father was probably along on that shopping trip—that my six-year-old poundage wouldn’t make it budge; nor did my father’s forty-plus-year-old poundage. The pogo stick hung on the wall in the garage for years, waiting for someone heavy enough to make the spring depress. The whole truth: I was so acrophobic that I wouldn’t have been able to bounce on it anyway; the pedals were too far off the ground.
I made the doll a suit, a rather nice one, because my mother wasn’t into playing around with the sewing machine; if I was going to sew, I was going to do it right. I found the suit last year when we moved, unironed but intact. I guess the skirt got lost in the six-decade shuffle. Note that the cape is lined. I couldn’t make a lined anything today. Or unlined. My manual dexterity has departed.
One year it wasn’t the presents I remember but the living room floor covered wall to wall with discarded wrapping paper, so Sabre, the Cocker spaniel, couldn’t figure out how to get across the room to the front door.
So many other presents over the years, so many experiences, so many memories.
My mother told me once about a Christmas during the Depression when there were no presents at all, but the Christmas Eve sky was clear and bright with stars, and the family decided it must have looked like that on the very first Christmas.
I didn’t say, of course, but I thought that must have been terrible. No presents. How could they bear not having packages under the tree, and surprises, and new toys.
So I grew up and things fell into place and presents fell into perspective. I’m still pleased to receive them. But the truth of the cliché applies: It’s the thought that counts. And the people behind the thoughts.
And with perspective comes new definitions: Presents come in boxes wrapped with colored paper and tied with ribbon and bows.
The thoughts, the experiences, the memories, are gifts.