It’s true; birthday and Christmas rituals are somewhat diminished run-of-the-mill affairs, until we open a present that has been flown in, from what must be one of the world’s best and worst gift givers. 'Best' because she diligently remembers every occasion and 'less-than-best' because of what lurks behind the wrapping paper. This gift giver happens to be my mother and that makes the gifts so much more interesting because these gifts are sent from the heart.
Now, because she lives back in Britain, all the packages arrive with the “description of contents” sticker licked to the outside. So, like wolves drooling over the lamb, we enjoy a delicious prelude to the gift within by getting a hint of just how 'interesting' the contents of the package will be. I know this sounds harsh and unfair but if you could see the atrocities wrapped and held within you too would be compelled to mock.
Who can forget that birthday when manhood itself was put on the line. I, a grown man, received from my far-distant, loving, mother a pair of swimming shorts – no that’s too expansive a term – I received a swimming outfit of, shall we say, diminished proportions. To say they were Speedos would be to exaggerate just how much spandex material was used. These things were bikiniesque – almost a male thong. Yes, my own mother sent me something to wear when I swim that would have any neighborhood watch label me as a danger to parents and small children alike. They were not big enough to cover my embarrassment, let alone my….particulars. Like a French visitor to a Riviera Beach I would be standing proud showing all my unmentionables – meat and two veg, fully in view. A shocking gift in every sense.
They were followed that Christmas by a package with the customs label boldly declaring “ski gloves.” Great – what could be wrong? I ripped in only to find they were lady’s ski gloves. Fashionable yes, but dainty, hugging, glamorous ski gloves none-the-less. Maybe I was supposed to wear them with the swimming thong at some Mardi Gras parade, throwing out sparkly beads to gay friends. Maybe, just maybe, my mother thinks I’m of that persuasion and she can’t bear to face me about it and so, to be encouraging, she sends me what she believes to be gay-appropriate presents.
Undaunted by my tepid “thank you” the next event saw me opening another disastrous package. To the squealing delight of the gathered family, the green label read “decoration.” They were not disappointed. I pulled from the package a six foot long string of small tinkling, bell-like, peculiar pewter elephants strung together with brightly colored gold and red threads. The result of an industrious, cross-legged, third world, unfortunate peasant no doubt, but it was as if a Thai brothel had lost part of its doorway and now here it was hanging intriguingly from my hand. All it was missing was the nervous, sweaty head of a Thai businessman leering around it saying “You ready for me now, yes?”
Let’s stay in far distant lands for the moment – because that’s where my most stunning present is right now. Recently my mother sent me a card that proudly announced that I was the owner of a grass-clearing, milk producing, crotch butting, pot-bellied goat. Obviously we rushed to the front door looking for the crate and ready to hear the bleating of a hungry, penned-in beast, only to realize that my gift was a charitable donation that had been shipped to some unsuspecting tribal leader in dusty Africa who would be forced to milk the little bastard every three and a half hours. It was to be the gift that kept on giving – just not to me.
For the record it’s not just me that’s been the hapless recipient of these extraordinary gifts. My wife has lived through having to explain where and when she actually wore a blouse that would have been more appropriate to an exhibitionist Spanish Flamenco dancer – all see-through, off-the-shoulder chiffon ruffles in an inappropriately seductive tiger print. Likewise my daughter has to balance the 1970’s Starsky and Hutch pimp’s hat on the coat rack to prove that it actually gets used when her Grandmother visits and even though it scrapes the skin away, so much so that it looks like a suicide attempt, she also wears the roughly hewn Caribbean sea shell bracelet that smells of Puffer-fish spit, every time Grandma pays a visit.
As recipients of these oh so lavish gifts we have all learned to turn the other cheek, even though sadly we are living proof that it is unmistakably better to give than to receive. I am, though, beginning to see it all as a potentially serious problem – a worrying problem much closer to home. I am beginning to see empirical evidence of a genetic basis to poor present purchasing habits – possibly a natural selection that preferentially leans towards ludicrous gift giving. As evidence it has been pointed out that I, of all people, once presented a fine Cos lettuce to my wife-to-be as a heart felt gift and later out-did that event by presenting an electric paper shredder as a grand Christmas present. In my defense, the legume was full, firm and irresistible and the office aid was beautifully wrapped and joyously placed under the Mistletoe.
It is true, the demon gift seed may have hatched – I may be becoming my mother. Even more of a concern and deserving of a visit to the gene therapist: my daughter presented me this last Christmas, (with all appropriate fanfare) with a ceramic cauliflower to compliment the glass yam, pottery eggplant and fine crystal golden delicious that she had given me in previous years…..my god, what have I done. All is lost – I have passed on the mutation.
God knows what abominations my future Grandchildren will find under their Christmas tree. May god have mercy on their souls.