- Jun 2004 Archive
I love my cousins, I really
do. While they're considerably older than I, we're very close, and they're
more like sisters to me than cousins. But there is one particular issue I
have with them that I've just given up on: gift-giving.
Now, let me say here that I am no mercenary. I truly believe
that it is the thought, not the gift, that matters. I love giving gifts, and I
do so because I like making the recipients happy, and it gives me a charge to do
so. But there is a certain point at which it becomes ridiculous.
First, a little background.
My cousins, Jane and Sue, are twins. For years, Jane and Sue
would give one combined Christmas gift to each family member (me, their mother
& father, our grandmother, my mother & father, etc.), and they would get
two in return (one for each of them) from each of us. Well, that's fine--it's
all about the season, right? Right. Loving and sharing, etc. Great.
Then Jane got married to Bob. So we would each get one gift
from Jane, Sue, and Bob . . . and they would get three. That's okay! Remember,
it's about family and love and togetherness. Not about the presents.
Then Jane and Bob had a little boy, Teddie. So we would each
get one gift from Jane, Sue, Bob, and Teddie . . . and they would get four. It's
Then Sue got married to Rick. And then we would each get one
gift from Jane, Sue, Bob, Teddie, and Rick. And they would get five.
Okay, now it's reached the ridiculous point.
But again--I kept remind myself that it's all about loving and
sharing and giving and taking care of your fellow humans . . . not the presents.
I bought them things because I love them and want to do so, not because I feel
like I should or because I expect something in return.
Even though I always managed to get the worst presents
possible from them.
They don't seem to have this problem with their parents or my
parents or our grandmother or their brother and his wife and son . . . but when
it comes to me, they give me the strangest, most random things. Like the year
they gave me a gallon jug of Bullfrog sunblock. Or the time they gave me a small
decorative basket of fragrant soaps in the shape of roses. That was nice . . .
but one could imagine it more in an older person's home. I was 12 and living
with my parents. What on Earth would a 12-year-old do with a basket of
But I never, ever said anything. I don't want to look a gift
horse in the mouth or seem greedy or ungrateful. I always cheerfully accepted
what they gave me and said "thank you." I never even complained to my
And, again, I loved giving them gifts--I would go out of my
way to buy them each something I knew they'd like, agonizing over little details
and shopping endlessly for the perfect thing. Even when I was younger and didn't
have very much money, I tried to put thought and care into what I got them. Jane
likes Snoopy--I got her a Snoopy Christmas ornament. Sue likes Fleetwood Mac--I
got her a greatest hits album. Bob is an avid tennis player--I got him a case of
tennis balls. Teddie got something appropriate for his age, toys of some sort.
Rick is into Harleys--I got him a Harley belt buckle.
So this went on for years, until I was about 26.
That's when I'd reached the boiling point.
I had a good job and was making a decent amount of money. I
wanted to make sure I got them something personal, something nice. They are all
avid outdoors people, so I bought them all fleece pullovers. I bought Teddie
about $50 in toys. I probably spent a grand total of about $350 on the five of
Jane had asked me what I wanted for Christmas a few months
earlier, and I said I wanted a metal "alumni" license-plate frame from
my undergrad school, which would be very easy, since they lived close to the
And that's exactly what I got.
From the five of them.
It cost $4. How do I know this?
They left the tag on the back.
This holiday gift is far more tacky than a rewrap or a fruit
cake. First some backround information is needed. My friend
"Julie" is a wonderful woman with a very generous nature (generous to
a fault). Unfortunately she lacks taste in men, many of her boyfriends
either have no job, no car, and/or are familiar with the inside of a jail
cell. A few years ago she was dating a guy named Joseph who fit the mold
of the typical guy she dated. Since Joseph still lived with his parents (I
think he was in his late 20's), he spent a lot of time over her place and often
stayed there when she went to work. Julie didn't have a lot of money so
she didn't have a lot of the extras such as cable TV (plus she was working a lot
so she didn't have much time to watch it).
One day she returns home to find Joseph watching cable TV.
Joseph explains he got the cable as a gift to her...BUT it turns out that Joseph
ordered cable under a false name to her address so when the bill came (he
thought) she doesn't have to pay it. So he didn't even BUY this 'gift'
that Julie never wanted in the first place. Joseph just wanted to
watch cable TV while he stayed at her place. She did have to call the
cable company to cancel it. They gave her a hard time because they said
you can't cancel cable in somebody else's name (yet it was so easy to set up
with a false name and no proof of identification???). Julie eventually got
it canceled, but it cost her 50 bucks to do so.
This happened 30 years ago but still gets dragged up at family
reunions...so I thought you might enjoy it.
We were invited to spend Thanksgiving with my father's
relatives. Keep in mind as I tell this that, due to distance, we always spent
more time with my mother's family so I actually was not closely acquainted with
my father's relatives. I knew most of them by name only, so my parents thought
this was a good opportunity for me to get to know them.
The gathering was being hosted by a cousin of my dad's, let's
call him "Bob" and his new wife. I had only met "Bob" once,
when I was about five years old. I'll call the wife "Linda."
We get to their beautiful home and everything smells
wonderful. However badly Linda behaved later, I have to give her points for her
decor and fabulous cooking. They had turkey, ham AND roasted deer meat (this is
the South, you know) as well as four different kinds of cakes and pies. A long
line of luscious-looking side dishes had been set up on folding tables. Little
did I know that I'd get to taste little of it.
I was glad to see my cousin "Kelly" because she was
someone I DID know and figured at least I'd have someone to talk to because all
the other kids were SMALL kids. Instead, "Linda" corralled both of us,
put her arms around us, and told us in an overly sweet, overly slow tone (as if
we were tiny children) that she was sooo glad to meet us and we are just soooo
cute, and how much she needs us to be her "helpers" and we don't mind
that, do we? Big overly lipsticked mouth grinning the whole time.
Not knowing what else to do, we say sure. She puts us to work
serving food. When at last all the adults are served, we try to make plates for
ourselves, but she says, "Oh, no, my helpers get special seats!" She
took us into the game room and seats us at tiny tables (we're in our teens) made
for the smallest kids and announces that we're each in charge of a kid's table,
and to make sure they behave!!!
The kids are being served macaroni and cheese. There is also a
plate of macaroni and cheese in front of my place and Kelly's.
To give my mom credit, she looks incredulous and goes back to
the buffet and makes a plate for me. Kelly's mom looks dismayed but does nothing
so poor Kelly gets mad and cheese too!!
The kids behave like total brats. I try to keep them quiet,
but don't know their names or even which relatives they belong to. Linda comes
in and gives us all a stern look, says the adults are being disturbed, and tells
Kelly and I to "remember that she trusts us!" in that baby talk voice.
Big lipstick smirk again.
The dinner is a nightmare and moms keep coming in and out to
tend their wailing brats and give me and Kelly dirty looks. They treat us like
their personal babysitters. I can't wait to get out of there, but then Linda
comes in with the huge gaping red mouth and tells us in baby talk again that she
needs her helpers now! You guessed it. Kelly and I are put to work clearing the
table and washing dishes.
My parents thought this was tacky but hang around yakking
anyway. It was the longest day of my life. I told my dad I could understand why
he spent so little time with his relatives if they were all like that!
Fortunately we never spent another holiday with them again.
My mother and I have a very strained relationship and
Christmas holidays have always been miserable, each one getting progressively
more stressful and aggravating. She decided to come down for the holidays
early this year, just before Thanksgiving, due to our tight schedules. She would
be showing up Tuesday night at seven, my fiancé and I would go out to
dinner with her, and she would sleep in a motel. The next day we would go
Christmas shopping together. She knew that I would be awake until two am and we
would be waiting up for her to have dinner.
Seven thirty rolled around with no call and no answer when I
called. The same at eight. At nine I was growing irritated as I was very hungry.
I turned on the news. No story of a plane crash. Had she decided to skip dinner
and just get a room for the night? No answer at nine thirty, ten, ten thirty,
you get the idea. At midnight I was fed up. I was hungry, I was getting tired,
and I was feeling rather disrespected. I left an angry message that we were sick
of waiting up for her and were going out to get fast food. The two
of us were very angry, but waited up until four in the morning for her call.
Finally we went to bed.
We woke up at ten to three messages arriving between eight and
eight thirty. My mother had had a six hour flight delay and had arrived at
midnight. She'd packed a carry on that was far too large and it had to be
checked in with her cell in it. She claimed that it was too late to get a room
at one of the many 24-hour motels, so she had spent the night in the
airport crying, not wanting to call because she knew I was asleep. She
began placing all the blame squarely on me. I shouldn't have gotten angry, I
should have called her before she got on the plane, I should have stayed up
later and woken up sooner. The second message was largely the same
with sobbing. The third started out with a screaming, crying rant about how
cruel and irresponsible I was. She announced that she had bought tickets back
home (across the country) and would be flying out immediately as she was
obviously not wanted. I called, but she was already on the plane. I left a
message saying that she should have called me when she learned about the layover
as it was very rude not to send any message on, even if she had to use a pay
The icing on the cake was when she e-mailed my mother in law
and told her about how rudely she'd been treated and that we were only angry
because we had expected her to buy food for us. She further informed her that we
were very greedy and should never be kept late for dinner. She still
hasn't apologized for her childish behavior and I'm really debating never
spending the holidays with her again.
Page Last Updated May 18, 2007