posted Wed, 24 Nov 2004
It took me years to figure out what Christmas gift to give my grandmother that she would actually use. She usually re-gifts (although with full disclosure) or just never uses her gifts. It’s not that she doesn’t like what people give her (I don’t think), it’s more that she doesn’t think she should have “nice” stuff. More than once, she has given me something because it was “too nice” for her to use.
I don’t know where she gets this idea – that she is undeserving of anything nice. She did grow up poor on a small farm in Wisconsin and didn’t have indoor plumbing or a phone until my mom was 12 years old. But I think most people in rural farm communities in the 50s didn’t have those things, either. I guess by today’s standards, my mom grew up poor, too, although living on a dairy farm, they always had enough to eat.
The real gift that keeps on giving – although I like fruitcake.
But if you are poor, you are not going to waste. You are not going to splurge. You are going to save the “nice” things for special occasions.
My grandmother – the full-blooded Slovak (not to be confused with Czech)– does not splurge, does not waste. She hardly ever has any trash to put out because she recycles or re-uses everything. No leftover food ever gets discarded. It becomes “whatchagot soup” or, at worst, it is fed to the dog next door. Plastic bags from bread and frozen vegetables are saved and re-used. Cereal boxes are flattened and taken for recycling.
She denies herself for the sake of others. If there is a plate of chicken going around the table, she will always take the wing or the neck. I remember once my brother took the breast. I got so mad at him because I had just taken a back piece, a part I don’t like but I couldn’t take a good part.
Then I thought, “Why am I mad at him? Why shouldn’t he have the breast? Why shouldn’t I? No one is making me take the piece I don’t like.” But my grandmother has the idea that she should not have the “good” chicken parts and I guess I had decided that was the appropriate way to behave.
My mom told me that my grandmother had a really nice tablecloth that she was saving and saving for a special occasion. Years later, that occasion finally came – but mice had eaten the cloth.
Anyhow. The solution for my grandmother is gift certificates. Not cash – to me, that’s a way of saying, “I really didn’t feel like thinking of something you would really like so here’s some money” – but certificates for things like her art supplies (she is a painter) or her phone bill or her groceries. The one I’ve used for the past couple of years – because there is NO way she can give it to someone else – is to pay for her haircut and permanent. She always goes to the same salon, so I just pay for her next appointment. Voila.
The end of the line
2 years ago