Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Tag: gift-giving

ODD #9: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

photo of three much-loved children's books and some stale Christmas peppermints

Keep reading: I promise you’ll get it.

I don’t know or care who first used this now over-used phrase. Whatever that person (or ad campaign?) was originally referring to, I’ll bet it wasn’t really “the gift that keeps on giving.” I know for a fact that for some of us (who might be regarded as odd, odder, or oddest of all), a book is.

After The Best-Ever Christmas, school absorbed all my attention. But when the last school bell had rung on May 30th, the bus ride home turned into a truly depressing affair, as I resigned myself to what would undoubtedly be a long, boring, incredibly dull summer.

  • No reading classes exploring imaginary children’s exploits.
  • No sumptuous aromas of waxy crayons and pristine construction paper.
  • No excitement as the battered box of blunt-end scissors was passed around.
  • No sloppy pots of exotic-smelling paper paste.
  • No wondrous geography homework to delve into and foreign lands and exotic people to study.

I’d even miss the math flash-cards. This, in spite of the fact that I was – and still am – always a little confused about Math. Is it the one next to Venus or the one next to Pluto? I always ask myself. Small matter. With no academic exercises in the offing, even Math took on a certain, far-off desirability.

Grim. It’s going to be grim, I thought as I stepped off the school bus that last day of school and trudged up the walk to the Victorian gingerbread screen door. My thin little shoulders slumped as my bulging, red-and-yellow plaid schoolbag banged against my knobbly knees. An interminable summer of no learning and boredom-beyond-belief stretched before me.

Maybe not.

You’ll remember that in all my desk-moving frenzy after The Best-Ever Christmas, there had been no time for reading. First things first, you know. Indeed, all reading since then had been textbook reading. Just as I had resigned myself to a depressingly boring summer, I found the three-volume set from The Best-Ever Christmas that I’d squirreled away for just such a time as this. What glorious good luck!

There was more. With those books was a whole cache of very old peppermints, culled from my Christmas stocking. My father didn’t believe candy should set around in candy dishes all year long: special holidays were the only times candy made its appearance at our house. My six-month-old cache of stale candy would have to be my little secret. Heh, heh, heh. Oh, glorious, glorious, unbelievably good luck! I was set for the summer: something for my brain and something for my sweet tooth.

Of course, as every book-lover knows, a good book never lasts as long as you’d like. You’ve heard older generations’ stories about how they had to slave away at endless chores when they were children? Not in my house. Oh, sure, there was the occasional carry-out-the-trash kid chore but mostly, my parents reasoned, childhood was to be childhood. There would be plenty of time for work later, which explains why – with little to encroach on my reading time – I’d read all three novels by mid-June.

And what spectacular
two weeks they were.

Even today, when I smell peppermint candy, I’m transported back to those yellow-and-green-bound books and their characters, especially the poverty-stricken little family in Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, since I devoured the majority of the peppermints during that one. By the time I got to Heidi and certainly by the time Alcott’s Jo and her sisters entered my consciousness, the peppermints were gone. So Heidi, Jo, and her three sisters reside in my memory pretty much scent-free.

To what did I owe this gift
that kept on giving?

My Best-Ever Christmas was largely the result of my parents’ childless, CITY-shopping escapade, I’d just like to point out. However, I have to admit that the very best part of it – the desk – was strictly home-made on the farm by a farmer and his wife during a few spare winter afternoons. Not very glamorous. Not very sleek. Certainly not expensive, as it was made of pine and Masonite. But absolutely perfect.

Pay-Attention Tip
of the Day

How did they know that a home-made desk and all its accoutrements would turn an ordinary Christmas into The Best-Ever Christmas for their odd little girl? Funny you should ask, as I was just preparing to tell you: they were paying attention to their odd little girl’s innate aptitude and made their gift-giving plans accordingly.

Carefully thought-out gift giving, whether it’s a book or not, gives and gives and gives and gives…. Here I am, fifty-eight years later, still enjoying just reminiscing about my wonderful parents who assembled those very appropriate gifts for my Best-Ever Christmas. That’s some gift-giving!

Your carefully thought-out gift-giving will keep on giving and giving and giving to your friends and family, too. Knock yourself out this Christmas season. Just do a lot of thinking first – especially if you have a few odd characters on your list since, trust me, their gifts require a good deal more thinking.

Odd #10 is out of the cooker and ready for reading. Enjoy, but FYI, it begins with a naive nine-year-old’s perspective.

©2014, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: The heart of the giver makes the gift dear and precious. – Martin Luther

Luther nailed it way back in the early 1500s!

Odd #8: Gift-Giving, Par Excellence

1950s photo of little girl at child's desk

(I’ll explain about the silly doll later.)

Were you ever disappointed on Christmas morning?

Join the club. My first seven Christmases were supreme disappointments. Every blooming one of them included some kind of doll as my “big gift,” which I, odd little girl that I was, promptly set on a shelf and ignored the rest of the year. Dolls were just so, so, well, just so useless.

On my eighth Christmas, my parents gave up – finally. There were no dolls that Christmas, and it was the best Christmas of my life. Not one since then has ever come close. No offense intended to my loved ones, but it’s the truth.

Pay attention,
because excellent gift-giving
and grateful gift-receiving
require a great deal of reflection.

As many odd children do, I’d worked out the Santa Ploy well before age eight. I had no misconceptions about the source of Christmas bounty: my parents got all the credit. That Christmas morning, my parents basked in the glow of gift-giving as their extraordinarily odd little girl thanked them profusely for gifts which were her heart’s delight. 

  • A play typewriter on which I could type letters, just like my father. (I reasoned that if I weren’t allowed to touch the real thing, then this was a brilliant second-best.)
  • A hefty, 512-page version of The Illustrated Treasury Of Children’s Literature, filled with my old favorites and many which would become my new favorites.
  • A three-volume set of Little Women, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, and Heidi.
  • A small collection of books illustrating fish and birds I’d never heard of or seen.
  • Tracing books with delicate pages of onion skin paper interleaved with thick yellowish pages.
  • Aromatic coloring books.
  • Waxy smelling crayons and pine-scented colored pencils.
  • An Authors card game.
  • And, wonder of wonders, my very own hole punch and stapler. What more could an academic, even as young as myself, ask for?!

A lot, figured my parents.

Settling in for an introductory reading of one of my Best-Ever Christmas books, I was interrupted by Mother’s throat-clearing and a not-so-subtle “You know, Christmas isn’t over yet.”

Right. Christmas Day has just begun. Back to the fish book. Wow! Are tropical fish really this colorful? The only fish I’d ever seen, at my tender age, were fish in the creek running through my parents’ farm and the ones in a neighbor’s pond, which were unremarkably drab, compared to the brilliant saltwater fish I was viewing for the first time. (Remember, this was well before educational TV and the likes of History Channel.)

My father got in on the act as well, making odd, jerky motions with his head and eyes. Finally, they just had to come right out and say it. “Maybe you should look around the room for other gifts.”

Look around the room?

Everyone knows Christmas gifts are always under the tree. I decided to humor them anyway, put the books down, and take a quick scan around the living room. And “what to my wondering eyes should appear”? Discreetly placed against the west wall, sort of hidden behind two easy chairs, was my very own, child-size desk! Yes! A DESK!

No more using a wimpy shelf in a corner of the kitchen. No longer would I have to confiscate some pitiful little stool and turn it into a make-shift desk. I had a real desk, painted chocolate brown and cream yellow to match my room, of course. A DESK! With its own little brown-and-yellow stool!

And drawers – no-nonsense drawers to house all those coloring and tracing books! And a top middle drawer – for the hole punch and stapler, of course, and the other necessary desk accoutrements I would no doubt acquire, now that I was a legitimate desk-owner.

I’d died and gone to heaven. There was simply no other reasonable explanation.

My new responsibilities as an odd-child desk owner took so much time that Christmas holiday, I scarcely had time to read all my lovely new books, which just goes to show what a perfect gift it was. I, who loved reading above all else, was spending my time dragging the desk from room to room, arranging and rearranging all my new desk accessories, and learning to type, sort of. As any desk-owner knows, it takes time to get your stuff allocated to its most useful and proper place in a new desk.

I eventually worked it out. Though I’d originally thought its birth location in the living room was divinely ordained, within days I realized my error. I resettled it in the kitchen, right beside my mother’s Hoosier cabinet (translation: underfoot): see photo. (About the silly doll: it was a very brief concession to my parents for finally paying attention to my true aptitude. Trust me, in just days it was history, as desktop real estate became more critical to my work.)

When the holidays ended and I found myself back into the homework routine, I soon learned that serious concentration in the middle of a kitchen is a bit of a chore. Desks, it seems, are usually better situated in more quiet places, e.g., bedrooms and studies. As I gave in to my parents’ color-coding hint and settled the desk and myself into a corner of my bedroom, I began to feel quite comfortable as a desk-owner.

A little too comfortable. By the end of school, I am very ashamed to tell you, I’d grown blasé about being a desk owner. And isn’t that how it goes? How quickly we assume something is our due and forget how fortunate we are to have it. Even at the tender age of eight, after receiving the gift over which any odd little girl would salivate, I forgot how precious the gift and the thoughts behind it were.

Pay-attention Tip of the Day

Look around you. What gifts surround you that you scarcely notice? Pay attention to them. Think about the givers and develop a renewed appreciation for what was thoughtfully created or bought just for you. It’s an easy, no-brainer way to build an attitude of gratitude. Better yet, look for “gifts” others discard – items “not worth anything.”

Have you ever known an eight-year-old girl to grow rhapsodic over a Tiny Tot stapler, a hole punch, tin typewriter, or home-made desk? See? It just gives fresh credence to my admission of oddity. Oh, but it gets even odder. Check out ODD #9.

©2014, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: ”The great art of giving consists in this: the gift should cost very little and yet be greatly coveted, so that it may be the more highly appreciated.” – Baltasar Gracián

From a 1600s Spanish Jesuit philosopher

%d bloggers like this: