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With 50 in the Rearview Mirror

Wise Gifts

Our resident essayist offers thoughtful ideas for everyone on the list

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.

See also: How to shop safely online.

man upside down and sticking out of large box - Jaquelyn Mitchard's intelligent gift giving guide for the more mature

Looking for the perfect gift? Jacquelyn Mitchard has wise ideas for everyone on your list. — Photo by Eric Raptosh/Blend Images/Corbis

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.

Things matter.

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.

Next: Gifts for younger kids, grandkids. >>

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