Finding the Perfect Gift

by Ann Marie Gamble

My two hardest people to find presents for have birthdays in December--so this month I have to be on my game but good. They are gracious--"Oh, we have everything we need" . . . "Don't you worry about us"--and they mean those things sincerely--it's the children we should ladle it on for, not the wallet-carrying adults. But to ignore the birthdays and then the winter holidays (Christmas and Hanukkah in the same month--an additional plot) in such a short time span is lame.

I have been lame. A teapot for birthday; tea for Christmas. Gloves and then hats. I forgive the year in childhood when I gave both my parents model cars; I really wanted model planes, so at least I was trying.

What makes someone hard to buy a present for? No hobbies is an easy handicap--you can't get them the materials, nor can you get theme T-shirts, mugs, lapel pins . . . (okay, that could get lame). Older people: my newly teenaged son has turned into the tough kid, now that he no longer wants toys. Even older people have money and transportation, so if they want slippers they go get some--they don't put it on their birthday list. And sadly (since I'm talking about relatives who live in the same town, here), people you don't know well are hard to get gifts for. What do they like? What have they already seen? What are they allergic to? Ummmmm . . .

When I was a teenager, my family lived in England for a year. The exchange rate was terrible that year, and we were warned in advance that our Christmas and birthday presents would largely be family trips to the Continent. The school holiday for Christmas was suitably Dickensian in length--none of the namby-pamby nine days we got in the U.S.--and we'd be leaving for France and Italy the moment final exams were turned in in mid-December. No decorating; the stockings hadn't been brought abroad.

I couldn't quite stand it. I walked home from school most days, through the downtown, past a market that sold Christmas trees. I scraped together my pence, and on the day before my father's birthday I bought a little pine tree, drug it home, and hid it in the shrubbery in the backyard. I don't remember if my parents went out that night or if I got up in the middle of the night to enact my birthday/Christmas surprise. Instead of an official stand, I put the tree in the pot we boiled pasta in and packed the empty space with rocks to stabilize it. I cut out snowflakes and letters--"HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD"--put the whole contraption on the dining room table and tiptoed back to bed.

I was happy. My dad guessed, rightly, that I didn't want to skip having a tree along with the rest of the Christmas accoutrements, but I'd successfully kept my plan a secret and everyone had been surprised. We spent the holiday on the Cote d'Azur, saw Monaco and assembled roller skates with the French instructions. On Christmas Eve, my mom filled her hiking socks with French candies and left them at the foot of our beds.

This year, though, I'm stumped. Something to eat? Something to cook with? I still have a few days . . .

Cracked has a guide for the really hard-to-shop-for; none of these types are on my list this year! What are you doing about your tough cases?


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