Monday, December 21, 2015

Why I highly recommend giving slightly outlandish gifts.

Eleven years ago this month, I moved out of the house I'd shared with my boyfriend of 7 years. We broke up, and I was completely broken.

I moved into The Apartment of Despair and everything was just ... wrong. I didn't have any plates that could go in the microwave, so I ate most of my meager meals off the same Pyrex pie plate. Since I suddenly found myself with 2 dogs and no backyard, I tried to navigate walking a psycho dachshund on ice. It did not go well. And my freelance business was ... fledgling at best. I knew it was going to work out, but times were hard.

I got a job working holiday retail, which gave me a reason to leave my apartment. And I tried to figure out how things were going to come together financially. When I decided to leave Ex-Ex, I had exactly $25.35 in my bank account. I'll never forget it. I was so ashamed, and wondered how I had gotten there, both financially and emotionally.

Christmas was to be a pared-down affair. The big gift for the family would be that my brother would fly home from Ireland, where he'd been living. We didn't need any other gifts. I think this was my mom's clandestine way of ensuring that I didn't feel like I needed to spend money I didn't have. We were just going to hunker down and celebrate being together.

There were a few notable gifts, though. Poochie brought with him a huge Milk Tray chocolate assortment. His coworkers from the factory in Ireland had chipped in and purchased it as a going-away present since his visa was expiring. These people were all Indian and Middle Eastern immigrants who assembled belts that jiggled your gut for supposed weight loss. To a man, they sent most of their earnings home to their families. These kind folks adopted Poochie, and had him to their homes for holidays. He brought their kindness home to us.

There were also envelopes from our grandpa. He was still reeling from the death of his wife of 69 years. It had been almost 3 years, but after 69 years ... that's barely a heartbeat. But he was doing his best, playing a little golf, going on a few excursions at the assisted living facility. He still wrote his letters referring to "we." It was both heartbreaking and a case of, "well, of course!" They had started their married life together on a farm in western Kansas during the depression. Their love was an example of "through thick and thin."

Poochie and I each got an envelope. Our folks had no idea what was inside. I opened mine first.

The note read:
Christmas brings memories of happy times of celebration with our family and great appreciation for all the thoughtful and caring things that you do.

Your grandma's legacy continues to grow in many ways. It is my pleasure to share this with you during this holiday season. Enjoy!

With love,
Grandpa

And there was a check.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a ton. But to me? It was a gajillion dollars. It was rent and groceries and being able to breathe. It was moving forward instead of being moored to the idea that I had made huge, irreparable mistakes.

I cried. Ugly cried. The kind of sobbing you don't want anyone to see, except I was doing it at Christmas. I couldn't speak. Too much mucus.

My family couldn't figure out what was in the envelope and why I was so emotional. My brother opened his similar envelope, and everyone figured out quickly that I was good ugly crying, not bad ugly crying.

In all the photos from that holiday, I look rather raw. My eyes are red. I'm too skinny. But there's a glimmer of better things to come, of resilience.
A different Christmas. But just as magical.
And that's what I think about when I hear great stories about Secret Santas, people handing out cash at thrift stores, or folks covering bills for others. You just never know how that not-so-big-to-you kindness will size up for the recipient.

For me? It was king-sized. It was huge. And it reminded me that everything was going to be OK.

Have you been the recipient of such a life-changing gift? Warm my heart this Christmas and tell me all about it!

11 comments:

Mrs. G. said...

Beautiful.

cookingwithgas said...

My first Christmas without family, alone, lonely, no money to go home. My mother sent me a simple wooden box, inside was a check.
It made all the difference in the world.
Mom left last January, this will be my first Christmas without her.
I would give up that check for one more talk with her.
The gift of time.

Cha Cha said...

Oh, my friend. My heart is with you.

Angie said...

One I will always remember is the photo album my mom made me of pictures she got from my Grampa's house after he passed. There was one of my parents, grandparents and me from my fourth birthday that I had never seen. So precious to have the rare photo with my Gramma in it. And in the back page were tucked several letters. From me. My Grampa had saved them all those years and it just absolutely turned me into a puddle.

Kind of like I was today when I watched this...
https://www.facebook.com/lovewhatreallymatters/videos/1028941147128283/?theater

Becky said...

Six years ago, I had a stomach tumor removed in the weeks before Christmas. It was the culmination of months of not feeling well, medical tests and worry - worry about my health, worry about the medical bills stacking up, worry about not being able to work because of my health.....recovering from surgery, I wasn't really up for shopping or decorating or baking, all my pre-surgery energy had gone into doing what I could just to get my family through the next few weeks, most certainly NOT Christmas. As it turned out, the tumor was benign, we hit our deductible and didn't have to spend any more money on medical bills. That was the year my daughter, who was 7, made Christmas happen. She took over decorating the tree when it was too much for me. Edie made us a slew of gifts that year, including my favorite, which still hangs over my desk - a pink paper frame for her school picture that year, covered in glitter. It could not be more perfect. Not outlandish, but considering she was 7? It was pretty awesome.

Cha Cha said...

Ohh! It's so humbling to find we've meant so much to someone. What a beautiful and amazing gift!

Cha Cha said...

It seems that from the darkest days come our most shining moments. Your girl - what an amazing, loving spirit!

Dziesma said...

What a fantastic story! Thanks for sharing! I have several favorite and uber-touching gifts, one of which was the biography (about 70 pages, typed on a typewriter, complete with copies of old photos and documents) that my father wrote and gifted to his kids a few years before he passed away. Having been born in Europe, lived through WWII, spending several years as a refugee, then coming to the United States, he'd had a full and eventful life, and I'm so grateful he took the time to write some of it down for us. Funny side story: my eldest niece--who inherited a love of reading and writing from her grandfather--asked him how many drafts he'd written; he answered: "Drafts? You're looking at the first and last one. I just sat and typed!"

Kari Wagner said...

OH God I love this so much.
I am working retail again this Christmas and money is tight and OMG I JUST FEEL THIS SO MUCH RIGHT NOW.
Friend, we have all been there or are being there, whatever.
I get you.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Oh, this post wrecked me a little.
Merry Christmas, friend. I hope yours is lovely and bright this year.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

*sniff* I thought I was done crying today, until I read this post.

My grandfather gave my husband and I each a wedding gift, which my husband had packed with us when we moved into our dumpy little first apartment approximately 30 hours after the wedding. (The rest of the wedding gifts were coming in 2 weeks with our visiting parents.) After we walked into our cold abode and checked the mail, we discovered our first electric heat bill: $113 that we didn't have. DH had been there off-and-on for a month and the heat had been set very low, so it was a shocking bill. My husband then pulled out gifts from my grandfather, and I wondered why he'd given us each an inexpensive wallet as a wedding gift. My husband was smarter than I; he said, look inside... Grandpa had given us each $100 in cash. We were able to pay that electric bill.
God bless those grandparents!