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Oregon Family Magazine

It’s Not About the Gifts

11/30/2017 ● By Sandy Kauten
“So, what do you girls want for Christmas?” My sister-in-law Eleanor asked my daughters. It was Thanksgiving and we were waiting for our bodies to convert the main course into blubber before taking on pie and coffee.

Ten-year-old Marie said, “I don't know.”

Three-year-old Wendy said, “A live chicken that lays golden eggs.”

Six-year-old Sally snatched an American Girl doll catalog off a side table, flipped it open and pointed to items circled in indelible marker. “I'd like Molly's sunglasses and Felicity's corset and, if you can, Addy's bed, please.”

Aunt Eleanor laughed and started to look for pencil and paper, but Sally said, “Keep the magazine; we get new ones all the time.”

Twelve years later, Sally at 18 is still easy to buy gifts for – as long as you can keep up with her financially and don’t mind feeling that she’s placing an order.

Her Uncle Jim, my younger brother, is another one who knows exactly what he wants. But he’s particular to the point of eccentricity. When he shops for a shirt, he looks for the right color, style and fabric, of course. But he’ll also casually moisten a finger and touch the shirt in order to see how dark it would turn in the event of perspiration.

Jim is an art professor and an oil painter, and he’s passionate about aesthetics.

One Christmas I bought him a pair of brown leather gloves. The gift was a partial success; he liked the right-hand glove. But he hated the left-hand glove. He said the seams were sewn too loosely and the color was “mottled,” although it looked OK to me. Jim went back to the department store where I’d bought them, and they let him search their inventory to find a more pleasing left-hand glove.

 But it was Dec. 26 and there were only two or three pair in his size to examine. All were bad. To his credit, Jim did not ask the men’s-wear personnel for the addresses of the people who’d purchased the missing gloves. But he did get them to phone other branches of the store looking for more gloves for him to scrutinize.

 In late January, he showed up for a visit happily flexing his gloved hands. “Thanks, Rick,” he said. “These are great.” That was generous of him, since I’d done little more than launch his quest.

Gift-buying for Jim is not a high point of my holiday season. Generally we get a list from him and obey it – to the letter. When I see shoppers desperately talking on cell phones, I wonder if they are calling Jim to ask, “Does it have to have three buttons?” or “What if the color isn’t so much beige as it is somewhere between wheat and camel?”

But getting gifts from Jim is another matter. He puts a lot of thought into them, buying things that are beautiful and classy, such as a futuristic fountain pen for me or an exquisite Chinese silk purse for one of the girls. That’s because Jim is not picky because of a smallness of spirit. He’s picky because he has a vision of how he wants things to be, and he strives to make the elements of his world measure up. Over the years, I’ve been in for a lot of improvement myself, and I can tell you he’s strict, but fair.

You’d think Jim would be unbearable, but he’s not. He’s affectionate and practically a comic genius. He always spends Christmas with us, and it’s one of the best aspects of the holiday. He’ll tell us funny stories of his latest corrective clashes with students, professors, administrators, neighbors, his landlord and all the other skunks, slackers, ingrates, louts, cheaters and blowhards he encounters. He can make me cry with laughter. Plus, he’s as much fun to tease as when he was 6.

If the gifting is a chore, so what? For some, Christmas is all about the gifts, and for others it’s all about faith. For me it’s about embracing the people I love. But you never know. Maybe this will be the year I’ll find something that will surprise and delight my little brother. Angels will sing.

Rick can be reached at [email protected].