by Stephan Zimmermann
October 6, 2010
AFRAID IN AMERICA?
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- There is an old saying: "The more things change the more they remain the same," and, still another, "Times change and we change with them."
I've discovered in our language there's an old saw for just about everything and since I've put in a lot of time in this land of the living, I know what I'm talking about.
This was a week of birthday messages and presents, and each of our children were present and accounted for when John celebrated his on September 25. Counting from New Year's Eve to September 25 is exactly nine months - and nine months is exactly how long it takes to carry a baby to full term.
The story of my gestation is not quite as obvious as beginning after a New Year's Eve party; I was in utero from March 17 to December 6. Oh, oh, I get it; March 17 is St. Patrick's Day - nine months before I was born. The gestation period is 264 days.
But I digress. Birthday presents have slowly evolved from a tie, a belt, a wallet, cuff links and other accoutrements for the man in the gray flannel suit, to golf shirts, a bottle of wine, tickets to a game, an order of Omaha Steaks, and the like. Most of all, he prefers their company if they're taking us to dinner: that's ideal. I like those gifts because I get in on them.
These days, electronic gift giving has made a difference in our home - both as givers and recipients. At first, I thought it was a lazy way to send a present - until I saw how easy it is. When I want to send a gift to an out-of-state grandchild, I go cyber-shopping, and after an hour of browsing I make a selection, fill in the blanks, and off it goes. An added bonus is the child gets mail. Every child likes mail.
My niece, Irene, once told me she ran home from school on her cold January birthdays because she knew my mother, her "Nana," would send a card with "a dollar in it." Oh, what a thrill.
Speaking of Nana, she loved to receive aprons as gifts. For the mother of nine, aprons took a lot of spilled gravy in the kitchen. New ones, crisp and white, were very special to her. They did double duty when she'd fold a corner over her two fingers, then reach to dry my tears and kiss the boo-boo when I scraped my knees.
We want gifts to be special. Sometimes children buy something really inappropriate but so pretty they want their mothers to have it. My siblings would pool their money and buy Mama a satin, lace-trimmed bed jacket. It made her feel special to open the gift-wrapped box, but she always said: "Oh, I'll save this in case Papa and I take a trip to Montreal." She never made the trip, nor wore the bed jacket - but the thought counted to her, and she glowed.
My children learned Woolworth's gift-wrapped any item free. Well, Bill was really onto that. He'd run across the fields to South Hills Village Mall and buy a pretty bauble or candle or another knick-knack wrapped as if it came from Tiffany's. The only thing shinier than the paper and bow was the sparkle in his eyes. Once again, the thought counted.
Was there any gift a young girl longed for on Valentine's Day but a big, red satin heart-shaped box filled with chocolates? It symbolize for her a rite of passage from tomboy to the world of ponytails, not pigtails. She might make short shrift of the chocolates, but the red satin box was a keeper.
Most of the gifts I've unwrapped in my lifetime have either been utilitarian, or something to look at for its beauty, or for remembering. Now my kitchen has everything useful l will ever need. As for the beautiful items or means-of-reflecting doodads, well, there's just no more shelf space between the books and precious figurines. Nor is there wall space between the framed pictures and moments fixed in time.
Today our gifts have taken a marvelous turn toward something we couldn't have conceived of 50 years ago: We receive plastic, and don't we love it? We pretty much have what we need to be comfortable at home, but we do like to go out to lunch or dinner - especially to places where the napkins are linen and the silverware clinks.
On John's birthday he opened cards with a hefty amount of meaning: with one, we could go to Bonefish Grill; with another, to Outback Steak House; and with others, to Shell for gasoline and Harris Heeter for just about anything. Lest we forget that some things never change, one birthday present was "folding money," the kind my niece ran home from school for.
It truly is the thought that counts. My thinking is that our children are caring adults. Now some of them are parents themselves, and they are paying it forward. Their children see them joyfully treating their parents - and we love it.