Wednesday, November 30, 2011

excerpt for a New Book, Gift-Giving


When it comes to shopping for gifts, I am the worst. I get frustrated, and anxious – and indecisive. Usually, I ask my daughter to shop for me. (Actually, I enjoy giving gifts, but I am compulsive about giving the “right” gift – which always seems unlikely.)
My stories and poems are meant to be gifts, but I must admit that they are not received with the enthusiasm that is my hope. (At age seven, I gave a clutch of dandelions to my teacher. I thought of these little flowers as the perfect gift – bright, soft, symmetrical. My teacher's initial response was encouraging, but when she was presented with a bouquet of roses by another student, she forgot about my little bouquet. I watched the flowers grow limp, bowing their heads over the edge of the book where they were left, a reflection of my disappointment.) Often, when outcome does not match my expectations, I remember fading dandelions and the feeling that my expectations will rarely match outcome - but that has to be all right (since that's the way it is).
I have received gifts that are perfect. I have a leather briefcase that my father gave me when I was a teen. I still use it; it is was what I expected, and I felt his pride in me. Once, I received a tiny African terracotta Jesus from a friend. It has significance. In my shadow box, I have a toy soldier that I found while digging in my garden in Oakland. This WWI soldier is made of lead and belonged to a young man who died at age 19 in WWII. His sisters to whom I presented it, gave it back to me - as a gift. I treasure a baby doll that was given to me at eighth grade graduation by an anonymous donor with a note: Dear Mrs. Hoffmann, This is your promise doll: someday you will be a grandmother! And then there are others: My mother gave me the nine symphonies of Beethoven after my third baby died. My sister, Grace, beaded me a beautiful bracelet, a testimony to her thoughts and blessings, and Stu gave me a hairbrush with a note that read: “The first gift in a lifetime of gifts. I love your hair!” (My hair was very long and wavy then.)
I will never forget the Christmas when my parents were able to gift seven children with several presents each. I do not remember the gifts; I remember a huge pile of packages wrapped in red and green tissue paper, flowing from under the tree into the living room. The real gift was that of abundance.
Recently, I gave a ukelele to my three year old grandson; it was one of the best gifts I ever gave anyone. I was excited to buy it, excited to present it to him. I was joyful as I left the store and walked back to my car. I kept repeating, “I am happy. I am happy right now!” It was the same joy I experienced frequently before Stu passed away - when I climbed mountains, when I was successful.
(I am a teacher, after all.) I show and share what is beautiful in nature, and maybe, just maybe, the gift is received. “No, Grandma, I have decided that it was not a fox that bit that apple, 'puz' of the teeths (ibid teeth marks). It was a raccoon.” For me, words are the most perfect gifts, and the best words have been from the children I have taught as well as from the best friend with “the elegant heart.”

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