The Perfect Gift

fam tree.jpg

With the holidays (thankfully) over, it’s time to return the Christmas Crap to its resting place in the attic for the next 344 days. Thank you Baby Jesus... It was a good run and Santa was on his game, but it’s time to get real again. 

The first step on the road to reality is de-adorning the house – starting with the deconstruction of our Miracle Tree. In 21 days, this baby did not lose one needle... it did not suck up one sip of water... and it did not turn brown in one spot. Truly a Festivus Miracle.

Part of de-frocking the tree means finding homes for all the opened gifts still sitting under its boughs. These are the items that, asked for or not, have remained idle since their opening on Christmas morn... nary a thought on the recipients mind at this point; ill-fitting clothes, incorrect catalog items, “incompatible” electronics, and poorly chosen widgets. Everyone in the family has a misfit toy waiting to be housed, except for Mom who treasured every single item she received.

After a long day of gift-opening, eating, drinking, and general merriment, I returned Mom to her apartment next door. Getting her from point A to point B has become a mission requiring skill and agility. Somehow, between her two hands, my two hands, her cane, the stair rail, and my willingness to plant myself in front of harms way, Mom got safely to her coveted spot on her couch. The maneuver left no opportunity for forethought about her gifts though.

Shortly after returning home, Mom called asking if she’d left her gifts at my house (as opposed to... where?). She reminded me that they were in a box by the door. Her voice offered concern and anxiety, much like that she expresses when her purse sits more than two feet from her fingertips. I understood the return of her gifts to be urgent.

Now... despite my utter exhaustion from planning, creating, managing, and carrying out the holiday traditions and meals for an extended family of 12, over the course of 21 days, I was compelled to deliver my mother’s box as soon as possible. Say – right then.  

Glancing at her box, I realized how much thought had gone into each gift. It wasn’t the number or cost of the items that mattered, but that each had a relevance – something of importance to Mom.

As with the beginning of every Christmas season, I asked myself on day one, What do I get a 91 year old woman who literally has everything?

I settled on things that would bring her pleasure in the moment or that might illicit fond memories; items from local artisans including hand painted ornaments and “paper doll” crafts, augmented by a stocking full of specialty foods and useful kitchen gadgets.

But Mom’s big gift this year was unique... one of those gifts you just can’t wait to see the recipient open.

During a pre-Christmas football game on TV, an ad for Ancestry.com popped up. As often happened with the airing of this commercial, Mom expressed her keen interest in “getting” an Ancestry.com. (ie: walking into an Ancestry.com store at the mall and inquiring, May I please have one Ancestry.com to go?)

She’d forgotten our abandoned attempts at bringing her into the world of technology with a computer and then an ipad (“tapping” and “swiping” were not destined for her vocabulary...). She’d forgotten that Ancestry.com isn’t something you go to a mall and buy, but rather, something that you pull up on a computer. (Through The Google? she’d inquired.)

Although my husband requested (and paid for) overnight shipping, the Ancestry.com DNA kit we ordered did not arrive by the 25th.  We knew it would be important to make Mom’s virtual gift visual and tangible, so my husband hijacked an eight inch balsa fir tree from the festive caroler scene on our window sill, and attached little white “flags” to random branches – each denoting a foreign country or ethnicity. He wrapped the ethnicity tree in a big box and stuck a bow on it

After all other family gifts were opened, (and patiently waiting and watching each recipient do so), we told Mom we had a special gift for her this year... something she’d wanted for a long time (queue the water-works). With considerable help from her son-in-law, she opened her package.

In typical Mom-fashion, she oooohed and aaaahed over the 7” tree with little pieces of white paper stuck to it; her level of gratitude clearly surpassing any understanding of what the gift might actually be. With our mere mention of “Ancestry.com”, the spigot opened.

Although she still didn’t understand how this whole gift thing was going to work, Mom knew we were headed in the right direction. We explained that a “kit” was coming in the mail (Ahhh – so one CAN BUY an Ancestry.com thought Mom), and that with a drop of her spit, she could learn her true ethnic identity.

For a 91 year old woman who’s taken great pride in her multi-cultural breeding, this was big. Mom’s test results would confirm, negate, augment, or diminish the written and oral stories she’s depended on all these years, to understand exactly where she comes from. Mom would definitively know exactly how much Welsh, English, and Indian blood runs through her veins. She’d be able to confirm, and likely expand, her understanding of her family tree.

Six to eight weeks after spitting into a petri dish, Mom’s gift of fully understanding her genetics and cultural heritage will be realized (God willing, she hangs in there until she gets the results of her spit-test). The biggest gift for my husband and I will be Mom’s smile and other likely looks of surprise that are sure to come when she learns of her true blood line. Selfishly, there’s something in Mom’s gift for me and my children as well.

                                              

Emily Gaffney