We’ve all been on the receiving end of questionable gifts. When you wonder if there was some sort of mix-up with a laughable explanation. The kind of inappropriate gift that facial expressions give away before we can retract them. The kind of gifts we convince the giver and ourselves that we really, truly love. Yes, it’s perfect, just what I’ve always wanted.
But c’mon, a cordless drill and an air compressor? What the hell would I ever do with these sorts of things? Both were given to me on the same Christmas day, which equalled a double whammy on the facial expression. These were from the person who supposedly loved me? And knew me the best? Talk about a lunch bag letdown. And when that relationship ended, I didn’t even get to keep either of the stupid gifts. Blessing, really.
Certainly, the best gift I ever received was a colossal surprise from my sister. She knew it was going to knock all the other presents off the Gift Richter Scale. It was book-shaped, so I expected it might be the latest Douglas Coupland, or maybe a biography on a woman who climbed Everest or lived with the Penan natives in Malaysia.
When I saw the glossy unicorn on the cover and the tiny gold lock, I knew that no gift would ever top Kiley’s age 12 diary. All those secret words under lock and key were suddenly mine? She was actually facilitating this? I could finally find out what really went down with her torrid grade seven love affairs? What did I ever do to deserve this? I missed everyone else opening their presents because I couldn’t wait to get the raw dirt on her secret life, surreptitiously scrawled in the Unicorn vault.
This is what I found…
January 2nd, 1989
Yo, Lewis, Jewels and I were going 2 go see “Oliver & Company” but couldn’t get 4 seats together so we didn’t go. We had some food (4 burgers, 3 Pepsi’s, 2 large fries and 1 small) and then dad picked us up at 2:30.
January 3rd, 1989
Another boring day at school except Hilleree and Andy may break up. I don’t like Andy that much, he takes a major spaz at a little thing. Lynn and Natalie are fighting again and I handed in my cheque for the Ottawa trip.
January 4th, 1989
Karen’s parents are getting a divorce and Karen is moving to British Columbia. Donna, my Guide leader (retch) thinks Hilleree and I cheat and don’t try for our hard-earned badges. And then she goes and tells everybody our ideas!
January 8th, 1989
The bishop came to our church for a baptism and a confirmation. There was a lunch and cake and icecream for dessert. YOLANDA GOT HER PERIOD!
January 16, 1989
Nothing much happened today. I’m almost done my Cook Badge (Girl Guides). I wonder if Lynn is going to have a birthday party this year? Her birthday is on the 27th, so if she is she should hand out some invites soon.
January 1th, 1989
Mrs. Bean got mad at Hilleree and I because we were laughing at Jennifer’s pants! They were rolled up TOO HIGH!
January 20, 1989
I went to Nanny’s today. She bought me a magazine so she could watch the new president, George Bush and Don Quail, Vice President, get initiated. Ronald Regan who has been president for 8 years went bye-bye today.
January 31st, 1989
Yo and I had a big fight because Yo tells Andrew everything. We made up. We went to Nanny Chapin’s for her birthday and had cake and ice cream. I called Justin for Hilleree and I told him she liked him and Justin likes Hilleree!
Dad’s birthday was spent at home and I gave him a homemade piggybank made of my Tic Tac boxes. I’m not allowed to talk on the phone from 4:30-5:30 in case there is an emergency.
February 6, 1989
I’m Twelve! I got a card from Yo and a whole bunch of other homemade ones from my peers. We went to Nan King for supper but it was closed. So we went to Mother’s Pizza and Baskin Robbins afterwards.
And that was the last entry in her diary! What a Christmas gift rip-off! I was totally hooked on the unfolding drama and the escalating battles between Yo, Lynn and Natalie. Then there were the romantic entanglements, presidential updates and homemade Tic Tac piggybanks. Between periods, divorces and pants rolled too high—twelve was already a turbulent year! And the dramatic series came to an anticlimatic close with Baskin Robbins on February 6th? Groan!
It’s true that the most memorable gifts usually have no monetary value–but I’m glad I didn’t get the Tic Tac piggybank which I will bet $10,000 my dad still has. (And uses.) That’s why Dax gets second place with the homemade snowflakes he sent me when I was in the jungles of Central America for Christmas. It was raining cats, dogs and toucans, and we were eating soupy oatmeal by a dying fire. Wishing we could vote certain people off the island. The mail arrived via armed commandoes with gold-capped teeth who slithered in and away as silent as snakes.
I was shocked to see a letter in the spread-out pile from Dax. He was 14 or 15? He barely spoke to any of us at that age. He had cut out and neatly folded five snowflakes into the envelope. I don’t think he wrote a letter to me, but the flakes were enough. They spoke volumes. The local Cabecar kids marvelled at the snowflakes and one by one, they disappeared from our hut, only to reappear elsewhere in the village, suspended from the palm fronds. I smiled at those flakes everyday until I left three months later.
Third place for best gift (because I have to give first and second to family members to avoid in-fighting) goes to my dear friend Michelle Bluhm for surprising me with a beluga vertebrae. Every time I hold it in my hands I feel the weight of a creature that only knew the latitudes of the frozen north. There is an enormous feeling of awe and smallness in holding a whale bone. It’s a gift of great magnitude, a connecting force between Michelle and I as we move about on our divided geography from Nunavut and Africa to the west coast and Toronto.
Ralph Waldo Emerson figured it out long ago. “The only gift is a portion of thyself.” And certainly, whale vertebraes, heartfelt diary entries and neatly snipped snowflakes that fall out of an envelope in the middle of a Costa Rican jungle are testament to this.