I'm not the kind of guy who's frequently at a loss for words, but every December, when someone asks me what I want for Christmas, I invariably stare off into space and start doing my impression of a French mime. It's been years since I've had any kind of useful response to that question; I guess I'm at the age now where most of the things I've ever wanted, I probably have. And that most of the things that I really value are things you can't get at a store. This doesn't do the rest of my family much good, of course when it comes to trying to find me the right present for Christmas. I have become, notoriously, the most difficult person in the family to shop for.
And of course, I appreciate the presents I do get, the various golf clubs and winter clothes and photo albums of the kids, but I guess I don't have much of a poker face, for I'm never as enthusiastic about the presents I receive as my family would like. My wife told me that I look like a five-year-old kid who rips opens his presents with insane anticipation and then crumples in disappointment when he discovers socks and T-shirts and underwear are inside.
"Everybody knows when you don't like something," she told me. "You're not good at pretending."
"They don't have to get me anything."
"Of course they do," she said. "It's part of the intrigue of Christmas now. 'Will someone get Grandpa something he'll actually like?' It's like a new holiday tradition."
"C'mon, it's not that bad."
"Ha. You haven't liked a present in a decade since Mary got you that sweater."
I, grudgingly, had to admit that she was right. I guess I do have pretty high expectations for Christmas presents. I've discovered that I always want something that I didn't realize that I wanted. That sweater, for instance--it wasn't just a sweater. I have dozens of those. But when Mary lived in Ireland, there was a shop in the village that sold these huge, hand-made merino wool sweaters. For some reason, she instantly thought of me when she saw it, and bought the sweater almost nine months in advance. When I opened the present that Christmas, I was almost speechless. It looked exactly like a sweater my grandfather had owned, more than fifty years ago. Instantly it brought me back to that time, the winters at my grandparents' home. I could almost smell the woodsmoke from the roaring fire they always had in the fireplace. As a kid the sweater seemed gigantic to me, with the thick collar and the cable-knit pattern, and actually, the new sweater looked pretty imposing, too. It' much heavier than any other sweater I own--I swear, it weighs over five pounds--and it's just about the warmest article of clothing I own. It was built to survive the elements, after all, the fishing boats and the herding and whatnot, and on the occasional ice-fishing trips I've made over the years, it's the perfect insulation for sitting out in the chilly air. It's really only useful during the winter months; i tried raking leaves on a cool Autumn day with it on, and I was positively roasting.
But I love the sweater, and the kicker is, I didn't even know I wanted it. And that's what made Mary's present so special; I guess she sort of intuitively guessed that it would be something that I'd really love. There's no way she could have known that it was the same type that my grandfather had worn, but still, something must have struck her about it, something that was special and perhaps unique to our family. And it's made to last decades, which is something I know that Mary recognizes is a thing I really value.
I must admit that I feel a little bad about being such a difficult guy to buy for, and I sincerely hope that I don't put my family through too much stress this holiday season. But I also secretly hope that somebody's gonna find me the equivalent to Mary's sweater, that I'm gonna receive another present that'll go straight to my heart. Of course, I'll love any present I get from my kids and grandkids, though I may have to work on hiding that crestfallen look. It's never good when the grandfather looks more like the 5-year old than the 5-year old.
Until next time,