Sometimes the most memorable gifts are not particularly expensive nor even useful.
For example, once, many years ago, on a trip to my hometown, I purchased a small bouquet of flowers for my bubbie before Shabbat. My kids, very young at the time, instantly began arguing about who should have the honor of actually giving it to her, which I easily settled by opening the bouquet and handing each of them a single flower to hold.
Well! The kids were thrilled with this arrangement and took off, running as fast as their little feet would carry them, racing up the red brick path to her house, breathless and pink-faced, and ringing the doorbell. When my grandmother opened the door, the kids excitedly thrust their offerings toward her, which I was dismayed to see had lost most of their petals and were all bent over, due to all that exuberant running. My grandmother, however, was delighted and clasped those broken stems with love and gratitude.
Similarly, when my son Yoni was 4, I explained to him that it was my mother-in-law’s birthday. “Bubbie’s birthday?!” he said, and you could just see those wheels turning in his head. “Then she gets a present!” He immediately began sifting through the constant supply of treasures in his pockets (back in those days, laundry was always an adventure!) until he found the perfect thing and turned to her, hand outstretched with his precious offering, his voice reverent and loving: “For you, Bubbie. A rusty nail.”
Ever gallant and gracious, my mother-in-law accepted the offering with solemn thanks, looking, like my grandmother had, beyond the physical item and rather at the sweet child and his heartfelt sentiment of love and giving.
I wish all my stories about gift-giving were as warm and fuzzy.
My mother visited for a few weeks last year and before she left, I found a piece of jewelry on my living room bookshelf. I studied it; I didn’t remember ever seeing it before, and it somehow made me think of my mother. Feeling generous, I turned to her, saying, “I don’t know why, but this reminds me of you. Here, you have it.”
She waited a moment, sure I was joking, before saying, “It reminds you of me because I gave it to you when I arrived.”
Then came the awkward assurances about how much I really liked it … as well as mutually expressed concerns about my short-term memory.
It’s much more fun to be on the other side of those awkward moments … like the time I stepped into a host’s kitchen and saw a fellow guest scraping some food off her plate and into the garbage. “Don’t try the rice,” she advised me and made a face. “It’s awful.”
At my slightly horrified but amused expression, the realization slowly dawned. “Oh, no. Don’t tell me, you made the rice.” I nodded and suddenly the lady was blushing and stammering and cramming rice into her mouth, while I doubled over in laughter, thoroughly grateful to discover I’m not the only one who sticks her entire foot, warts and all, into her mouth!
OK, I got a bit sidetracked there, but my point was that we need to keep in mind the person behind the giving and the fact they’re usually offering us so much more than just a random object.
Also, I’m still looking for a really good rice recipe.