Buying a Present

When it comes to purchasing presents for my wife and kids and relatives and friends, I have the instincts of one who is totally lost in the woods. I have no hope of arriving at the birthday party with anything surprising or usable. Those standing around when I give the birthday boy or girl a present don’t “Ooh” and “Ahh” so much as they go, “Oh, my.”

There was a time when I thought I was rather imaginative. I can remember when I was in college, I had a girlfriend who liked to go to the beach in a bikini. (Not with me, of course, but with others of her friends.) For her birthday I gave her a belly-button brush. I thought it would help with that pesky sand buildup. But no. It was not appreciated. Horrified reactions like hers helped beat any notions of my being an imaginative gift giver out of my head.

Back in the seventies many of us young couples were trying to accumulate all the gadgets and doodads necessary for a cool household. Like lava lamps and fondue sets and a pet rock. I bought my wife a butter warmer, candle included, for our anniversary. More rejection.

One year I gave my daughter a Bedtime Barbie. It was supposed to be a soft doll that a little girl could sleep with. But something was wrong with Barbie’s eyes. When she was standing, they were closed. When she lay down on her back, they were wide open. They wouldn’t even close in death. I’d go in late at night to check on my daughter. She was just fine, but there was Barbie staring at me with those eyes. I called her Creepy Barbie.

Some people are great at picking out an exciting, surprising, useful gift. With them gift giving isn’t a science, it’s an art. They can even think of clever or encouraging gifts when it’s not Christmas or a person’s birthday. How do they do it? I can sit down with a pad and a pencil in an attempt to figure out what gift to buy a person, and all I come up with is buyers block.

Since it is now September, a week after Labor Day, many of the stores are putting up Christmas decorations. Christmas is my next gift-giving test. So, I wasn’t surprised when the Ghost of Christmas Presents Past visited me the other night. I thought he’d blown into town in the spirit of all the Christmas gift giving I’ve blown in the past. But no, he caught a ride with a Fed Ex driver named Rudy.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” he said, “but you’re stinko at gift giving. Let’s look at some of your gifts from Christmases past.”

I said I didn’t need a reminder, but he persisted. “Tissues in a box decorated to look like Santa’s workshop…Headphone earmuffs for your nephew in Phoenix…A trout tie for your fisherman brother in law…a set of pencils with snowmen where there should be an eraser…this year’s calendar instead of next year’s–”

“It was an honest mistake.”

“No, you thought it was such a good deal at the store that you didn’t even notice the year. Based on your track record, Santa’s bringing you a lump of coal both this year and next.”

I was glad to get rid of the guy – he was sort of a downer – but the next night the Ghost of Christmas Catalogs Present showed up at my house. “How did you find me?” I asked.

“I got a ride with your mail deliverer, Mrs. Claws.”

“And you’re here to berate me how?”

“Berate? No. I come with glad tidings, Carpe December. Seize the season!”

This guy was much more upbeat than the previous ghost. “Okay,” I said. “Supposing I want to give some really nice, imaginative gifts this year, how do I go about it?”

“Duh, what’s my name? Christmas catalogs! For all you seniors who’d rather talk to a live person than purchase gifts online – go figure – there are lots and lots of Christmas catalogs with lots and lots of wonderful gifts.”

“I’ve tried this before. I bought my wife a blouse and a pair of slacks one time from a catalog. And she liked them, but ever since then we get stacks and stacks of catalogs. The company sold my information. Also, ads from all these catalogs keep popping up on my computer. I can’t get rid of them.”

“Well, take advantage of them. Shop where you plop! Find your wife and kids and grandkids and assorted relatives the greatest gifts ever.”

“And that’s another problem. I have trouble picking age appropriate books and toys.”


“Because my grandkids are obviously smarter than others their age.”

“Well, if that’s what you think, you’re as bad as the Ghost of Christmas Past says you are. He says you once gave an 18-month old a toy appropriate for an 8-year old.”

“He’ll grow into it one of these years.”

“And hopefully you’ll grow up to be an imaginative gift giver. Too-da-loo. My ride is circling the block. I’ve got to be standing by the mailbox when she returns.”

The next night the Ghost of Christmas Presents Future dropped by. He came in a self-driving car.

“I want to show you what your future can be,” he said. But something was wrong with his projector. All he could flash up on the screen was the part of It’s a Great Life where the angel shows George Bailey what Pottersville would be like had he never been born. I’d seen it before, but somehow it gave me hope.

After he left I was actually excited. I started looking in catalogs – they’d started showing up before the ghost did – determined that this year I’m going to turn my gift giving around. There is a glow-in-the dark toilet seat, a Bah-Humbug doormat, a Christmas sweater with “REGIFT” written across the chest, an electric bug vacuum, and socks warmed by batteries, although they’re not included. I’m already thinking about who gets what.

What I’m going to buy for sure comes in a box with the words “Deep Knead” on the outside. I can wrap it so the words are the only thing showing. That way when my brother gets it, he’ll think he’s getting a massager, but really he’s getting a bread maker.

This is going to be my most triumphant Christmas ever when it comes to gift giving! And thanks to Christmas decorations going up after Labor Day, although some stores have to share the gift-buying season with Halloween, I still have more than three months to make my selections!



1 thought on “Buying a Present”

  1. I hadn’t quite gotten around to my pre-Christmas present anxiety yet, since it’s just after Labor Day, but your blog helped me get there sooner! Fortunately, our grandchildren are at an age (teens and older) where the best thing to get them is gift cards. I can happily do that! And if I buy them at Smith’s when I grocery shop, I save money on my gasoline!!!


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