In my life, I've been lucky to receive many gifts — charming, simple, elaborate and steeped in meaning.
The best, from the past, was a toy house no more than a foot tall, inhabited by a family of mouse dolls as long as the end of my pinky finger. It was so small and perfect. The mice had about 10 children (including two sets of twins; they were mice, after all). In a world where I often felt very small and imperfect, my mother had given me a universe in which all the stories and scripts were my own.
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After I'd outgrown playing with it, I still kept it, treasured, on my bookshelf. I came home one weekend from college to find out that my mother had given it to a friend who collected unusual dolls and dollhouses. The outrage brought tears to my eyes.
It still does.
For years, and in more than one country, I searched for something like it. But there was nothing like it. There was only one.
One of my best friends gave me a light, simple silver chain with a cloud, a star, a diamond shape — each engraved with the name of one of my children. Now, on you, this would look like a necklace; for me, it looks like a charm bracelet. Still, she took that into consideration. It couldn't be heavy. Another pal once found a duplicate of a statue that had been my mother's, accidentally broken by my father's new girlfriend after my mother died.
All of those things, taken all together, probably cost less than $100.
It's the season for egregious materialism, for the presumption of wealth in chaos. There's a commercial that portrays a twentysomething babe giving her beau a modest box that reveals a fancy phone inside. But the real gift is the instant photo she's texted him — of the Lexus with the big red bow outside.
It's doubly cynical when statistics show that 80 percent of college graduates have to live at home after graduation.
Another portrays a girl singing out her dissatisfaction with all her family's gifts to her, as an announcer advises giving the young what they "really want." In a poll by the Associated Press and MTV, more than 1,000 kids ages 13 to 24 said that the key to life was a good family, followed by solid friendships.
But what matters more is imagining the story that unspools in your head every time you wear it, use it, taste or see it — the solace of knowing how much you matter to someone … or how much you did once.
Choose your gifts wisely. Some of the ones on this little list cost a little more, some nothing at all. Every one comes with a guarantee.
They'll love it.