I’ve been using Writer Way to blog about writing, freelancing, web content, and working in the technology field. Today I’m just going to…write.
This time of year, the radio and the newspapers (and likely the TV as well, though I don’t watch it) are full of stories about gift giving.
An article in the Wall Street Journal today echoed a meme that’s being going around online. Both ask the question “What was the most memorable gift you’ve ever received?”
For me, it was the Smith-Corona electric typewriter my parents gave me when I was in high school. It signified to me that at some level they were sympathetic to my interest in writing — even though they kept pointing out that no one we knew ever made a living as a writer.
Reading the Journal article, I realized that I have much stronger memories of gifts I’ve given than of gifts I’ve received.
In the 1980s, when I was doing a lot of quilting, I made my parents a small New England-style quilted wall hanging that showed the house they’d designed and built in East Sandwich. My mother-in-law (this was at the time of my first marriage) admired the quilt, so I took pictures of her beloved Winnebago and made a similar wall hanging. We were headed overseas for a year, so I wrapped the quilt for Christmas and sent it to my then-sister-in-law so she could put it under the tree. A week before Christmas we received a letter from my mother-in-law that struck fear into my heart. It began “I’m writing this letter in the supermarket parking lot because I’m so mad at (name of father-in-law) I don’t want to drive home.” Without consulting her, he’d made a unilateral decision that one cross-country trip was enough for him and he’d sold her Winnebago to a golf buddy.
I remember making a hasty international call to my sister-in-law, asking her to buy a tablecloth, wrap it, and substitute it for the Winnebago quilt. My father-in-law had not been particularly fond of me to begin with, and I was afraid he’d think I’d whipped up the quilt just to fan the flames in the RV dispute!
While going through old photos earlier this month, I came across a picture of a gift I’d made in the 1970s that I’d thought had gone completely undocumented. It was a men’s Western-style denim shirt, and I’d embroidered the yoke with an elaborate gold-and-green swirled design based on Van Gogh’s “Starry Starry Night.” The recipient, a lacrosse player I dated at college, is now an Orthodox rabbi. He couldn’t possible still have it…could he?
After much organized (and some disorganized) ordering and shopping and wrapping and shipping this year I realized that only one gift was particularly memorable. I’d gotten the idea for it from a crafts magazine. The magazine article showed 16 fancy vintage buttons, wired to a mat board and displayed in an elegant shadow box frame. I decided to make it for my mother. She has a huge button collection, and many of her buttons have made their way to me on blouses and skirts and sweaters she’s made.
As I worked on it, the button project evolved from a grid of 16 into something considerably more thematic. In addition to arranging the buttons as a bouquet with floral wire stems, I found that layering the buttons, and adding a tiny colored glass bead to the center of each flower as I wired it to the mat board, increased the three-dimensional aspect of the bouquet. I also chose buttons that would harmonize with the pastels in my mother’s house in Florida. The finished piece got expressions of real astonishment from my husband (who saw it on the table) and my mother (who received it for Hanukkah).
Was the present memorable because I enjoyed the process of designing and making it? Or was it memorable because of the significance of the materials I used? Or was it memorable because my mother likes it? There’s a temptation to make more of these button shadow boxes, but I don’t think I’ll give in to it. Something tells me it’s memorable because it only happens once.