Waltham, Massachusetts 1932 There it was, the perfect Christmas gift. A lightly used copy of Emerson's Society and Solitude with notations by a recently deceased local minister, Elbert Whitney. Because it was a used book it was well within my budget, and because it had been written in, it cost even less. But for me the comments added to the value. I put a few coins in the hand of the bookstore owner and headed home with the treasure.
About half way home, while I was mulling over the value of this gift as compared to the last few gifts I had given my husband, an odd thought kept pushing its way into my brain.
Last year I had given George a sweater I had hand knit, working for months in secrecy. I modeled it after a garment he had seen on a passerby and commented on how much he would like one "just like that."
I searched everywhere for the wool, scoured women's magazines until I found an appropriate pattern then labored for hours in secrecy. On Christmas Eve, I wrapped it in red paper with white ribbon. I presented it to him with some ceremony as the children were taken up with opening their own presents.
He removed the paper slowly and with great care. When he had freed the sweater, he unfolded it, looked at it for a few seconds. It was hard to tell what his reaction was until he said, "Very nice," and set it down on the arm of the sofa. To my knowledge he never picked it up again. I have never seen him in the fruits of my hours of labor. Nor did he notice when I gave it to the church to pass on to someone who really needed it and would appreciate it.
Then I remembered his birthday present. Not so grand, but a nice token. I am not a connoisseur of fine liquor, but our next door neighbor Mr. Morse is. So I asked him what I should buy. He was kind enough to go to the store with me and help me pick something out. Hubby turned his nose up at it, because what could I possibly know about fine scotch.
That was bad enough but what happened next really stung. Mr. Morse, figuring that my husband had loved the gift, gave him a small bottle. Hubby went right home, and tasted it. "This is wonderful. I wonder why I have never had it before." I went to the cabinet and pulled out my own gift to him.
"What's this? I don't remember you giving me this."
There is a whole history of unappreciated gifts. Don't get me wrong, George is a wonderful husband and I don't doubt his love or care. We enjoy each other's company, and many of the same things appeal us both. A family picnic in the country is a delight to for us and the children, ants and all. When he takes the train into Boston on business, he frequently asks me to go along with him, and we spend at least part of the day wandering the streets of Beacon Hill, hand in hand. He is a fine father to our children. He loves them and encourages them in their childish pursuits. He will get down on the floor and play with them.
As a gift giver he is a champion. He seems always to know just the item that will wrm the heart of the recipient. He presents the gifts with great drama and ceremony.
There was one gift my husband accepted with grace and even appreciation. He had a love for silk pocket handkerchiefs. There must be twenty in his drawer, representing ten years of Christmas and birthdays.
I couldn’t stand the idea of giving the little volume of Emerson only to have it languish on the shelf unloved like the sweater I had labored over for so long.
So it was that I hatched a plan.
A week before Christmas I went to Mrs. Morse and told her what I had in mind. She thought the whole idea was outrageous, but she went along with it. Maybe because she thought it was so funny. She actually laughed when I told her what I wanted.
I took the little volume, wrapped it in the some inexpensive and garish bright green paper with an equally cheap pink ribbon and tucked it away in the kitchen towel drawer where I knew George would never look.
On December 23, I baked a batch of nut bread, and carried the loaves around to the neighbors. I'm not a great cook, though I have failed to starve my family. I am not a bad baker and the distributing of the loaves was a yearly tradition.
I went to the Morse's last, at a time I knew Mr. Morse would be there. I carried the little, carefully wrapped book in my pocket.
On Christmas morning we gathered around the tree to open the gifts. The children were properly appreciative of their assortment of toys and clothes. My husband loved the silk pocket handkerchief I gave him and tucked it in his breast pocket to show it off. We enjoyed a sumptuous and traditional dinner, and had settled in for a quiet afternoon simply enjoying each other's company.
Just as the sky was growing dark, Mr. Morse knocked on our door.
"George," said Mr. Morse, "I received the most ridiculous gift from a business associate. Some old used book. Take a look. I thought you might like to have it."
He pulled the Emerson out of his deep pocket along with the hideous paper and ribbon.
"Oh, my," said George as he took the book. And running his finger over the leather spine and following the waves of the marbled cover, he kept repeating, "Oh, my. Oh, my."
Then he turned to me. "Look Lidia, this has to be the best gift ever."
I send you this story with apologies to my great-grandfather Elbert Whitney, the original owner of the book, my childhood neighbors the Morses, but most of all to Roy. This narrative is based on a true incident which involved a book, but no green paper and pink ribbon.