“What was your favorite gift this year?”
I overheard that at the office, the day after Christmas. Thoughts run faster than words, and my mind sprinted along, but without gaining traction. About the time I was wondering at not having an immediate response, I began to hear the stories of kids and presents, of wrapping paper and emptied boxes. Getting older definitely changes things. Skip the Hallmark moments. My second reflection made me think deeper, and wonder a bit more.
There are plenty of correct answers: love, peace, community, et al. They’re popular because they are valuable, but in some ways they’re also too general. They may be at the core of what I appreciated, but the specifics are what give them meaning. Oh yeah, and there was some good stuff, too.
I’m about to become an official senior citizen, at least by clicking into the sixties. Most of my friends and family are older than me. Decades of accumulating things means most people don’t want more stuff. Experiences are hard to wrap, but food travels nicely.
Last week Whidbey Island was hit by a storm that knocked out power to everyone who relied on the grid. Folks with solar and wind backups were envied. People with generators were envied, but noted for being noisy. Our local power company had to restore power to 320,000 households. It took them days, but they got almost everyone back by Christmas Day. Thanks for the everyday overlooked gift of heat, light, hot water, and a reminder of neighbors helping each other while maintaining a sense of humor.
(By the way, the winds peaked at 117 mph at a local peak, Mount Baker; and hit at high tide, which you can see in this short video I uploaded.)
Walking through the neighborhood on Christmas Day it was nice to see an elderly neighbor. She came out with compliments for some help I provided earlier in the year. I was glad to see that she was okay, and had survived the storm and the outage. We were worried because she didn’t answer the door while the power was out. Some of us feared the worst. It turns out her hearing was probably out, too.
People visit people during the season, but the storm provided an extra reason and excuse to talk, plus ice-breakers for every conversation. How long were you out? Did you lose any food? Depending on the household, some need electricity for heat or well water, while everyone needs it for light. Conversations were about the basics of life, the things we take for granted the rest of the time.
My house is heated by propane, a story that continues, and I had a full tank; but it heats the house with water, water that is pumped around by an electric pump. Plenty of fuel, but one critical element lacking. But, I still had water, and plenty of lanterns and candles, and a well-stocked fireplace.
During the outage, gifts arrived. Food from the east coast, food packed in styrofoam with dry ice or ice packs inside, and big labels warning “refrigerate as soon as possible.” Well, they were already in the best place because I wasn’t about to open the kitchen’s fridge or freezer. The boxes stayed outside. Emergency backup food is usually freeze-dried or canned. Having filet mignon softens that situation, especially with some bottled wine that is ready for any event.
Because I am frugal, I am hard to buy for. I know that. So, every year I shop for myself. There’s one trip to the grocery store to buy cheeses or pretty popcorn that I wouldn’t normally buy. It’s a good time for smoked salmon. As a bonus, they’re all good when the power is out, too. Then, there’s usually a trip to the hardware store for some stuff. This year, lots of batteries because they provide a sense of security. The same with candles and lamp oil. Then I get things like an extra file, a special pot holder, and this year’s special treat – a sharpened lawn mower blade.
Silly? I can imagine that reaction. One advantage of truly understanding personal values and personal finance is finding those places where a little bit of monetary grease makes life much easier. The right tool? That can save hours. A pot holder? The right one at the right time saves food and a bit of skin – and may keep the smoke detector from squealing. A sharp lawn mower blade? Around here, the grass inevitably gets ahead when the spring storms are coming without a break. That first dry day can be a monstrous chore, especially of the blade is a blunt object trying to beat the grass back down. Silly? Of course, and that’s why I wouldn’t ask others for such gifts. But, I can ask and gift myself.
One time, someone with sufficient wealth asked me what I really wanted. They told me they didn’t want to hear about the small stuff. They asked for it. I delivered. I delivered a list of: paying off my mortgage, buying a new car, paying for full medical care, … You can imagine their very natural reaction. They were nice enough, however, to give me a generous cash gift – ostensibly to compensate for some emotional support I provided when it was most needed. Thanks and you’re welcome all in one.
I remember those years when the goal of opening presents included covering the living room floor in wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and empty boxes – the sort of thing pets consider an overwhelming gift. Some of those gifts were grand, and still in my possession.
This year’s most entertaining gift is probably the combined efforts of a few folks who provided me tea. Thanks to one batch in particular, I now have 27 kinds of teas and infusions (mostly loose leaf) at home, to add to the 7 kinds (all in bags) in my desk at the real estate office. I may not have to buy tea for months. A marvelous mix of flavors. Thanks.
And here’s the Hallmark moment because it is true. My best memories of Christmas 2018 are of people, people being themselves, people sharing the basics, people living in family and community. I didn’t expect to come back around to that answer to the question asked in the office, but that’s something I value, and something I received. It may not fit into casual conversation, but at least I can fit it in here. Thank you, all.