Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

November 29, 2010

Reflections on Birthday Gifts Past

So I just turned twenty-twenty six the other day.  No hoopla.  I'm not really hoopla people.  We kicked around going out to lunch but I didn't wanna get out of my jammies so we watched college football and enjoyed the rainy, wintery day.  I was tickled by the messages left for me on my Facebook wall.  Some of my friends hoped the weather was cold and rainy, "just the way you like it."  That made me laugh.  I wonder how many other people love rain so much that their friends hope the weather is crappy for their special day?  Ah dew loves mah rayne.  UW Huskies beat the Cal Bears (my 2 fave teams) with 1 second left on the game clock, 4th and goal. Incredible way to end the game.  I got cards and calls, including a recorded musical birthday greeting from our State Farm agent, which was strange to say the least.

I opened my gifties and we got to talking about the 'ghosts of gifts past'.  Brian has always, for the most part, gotten me really good gifts.  (I say 'for the most part'.  I'll get to that later).  This is due in large part to a system we've employed since after our 2nd Christmas together.  I get tons of catalogs during the year.  I fill out the order forms, put a stamp on the envelope and clip a pre-made-out check to it. All he has to do is sign the check, stuff it in the envelope and mail it. Wrap when received.  I usually give him the order forms in the late summer or early fall, which is why when the gifts are opened, I don't have a clue what I wanted, except in general terms.  Like I know there was something from the Signals catalog, but can't remember what it was.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?  

If you are like me, and not too many people are, you are a compulsive list-maker.  When Brian hands me a catalog with gift ideas circled, I dutifully type a list.  And not just a list, but a table that I create in Word Perfect with the gift item and the total cost so that I can keep track of our holiday budget.  I know what's in the boxes as they arrive, and always unpack them to make sure everything is correct.  Brian, on the other hand, waits till he is going to wrap the gift (which is usually the night before or morning of the holiday) to see what was on the order forms, because he didn't write it down.  

This has lead to a fair bit of head scratching, and a great bit of frustration, on his part, as he opens the boxes.  There was the year that I had filled out an order form with all kinds of weird, but inexpensive, stuff from a science-nature catalog.  I haven't gotten the catalog in ages and I can't remember what it was called, but it was brilliant.  One of the items was a sack of break-your-own-geode rocks.  Except to Brian, it looks like a sack of dusty rocks.  "ROCKS?  WTF??  SERIOUSLY?  ROCKS?"  The next item he unwraps is a package of charcoal pellets which was for use with a small metal cauldron that was ordered from a different catalog.  But again, because he did not make a list, he's like, "Charcoal?  Charcoal pellets?  What is she doing to me here!"  Then he opens another envelope and there's a Grateful Dead themed window cling sticker.  "A WINDOW CLING STICKER IS NOT A GIFT!"  The next item he unpacked was called "Dirty Old Coins"...Poor man nearly threw a clot.   He told me that the reason he ends up with a panic attack over my gift selection is that it's the morning of my birthday and he's finally seeing what's in the boxes and is horrified.  For the last 21 years I've said over and over, "So why didn't you just make a list and unpack them as they came in?"  He looks at me like I've just said something in Swedish.

This year the source of his confusion was a set of jewelry ephemera booklets.  I loved them.  I exclaimed "EPHEMERA!"  He's searching my face, thinking, 'is that a good EPHEMERA or a bad EPHEMERA?'  I was thumbing through the pages, cooing, "ooooooh pweeeettttyyyyyyyyy".  He goes, "OK can I ask you something?  What the fuck is ephemeral and is it a good thing?"  I said, "EphemerA are cool tiny art bits for making vintage looking jewelry, ornaments, etc. You use them with mini frames and encase them behind small pieces of glass."  He goes, "So you know what it is then?"  "Uh, yuh."   Phew. I can see it in his eyes:  Another gift-bullet dodged.  Then I added, "Remember a couple years ago when you gave me that copper metal tape?  That's what I use it for."  The copper metal tape was another gift that left him wondering what in the Sam Freakin Hill I was thinking.  

One Christmas a few years ago, I opened the CD of one of my favourite albums, "Architecture & Morality" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.  Brian scoffs at most 80's music...he calls the 80's "The Great Black Period of Music".  He was all about Led Zeppelin when he was 16; I was all about the Sex Pistols when I was 16.  He has no idea who "Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark" is, and only knows them as OMD. He never actually saw the band's name written out before.  He thought it was a DVD of some weird movie or show.  Again, he's searching my face for reaction.  'YAY!!!!!  OhmygodIlovethisalbum!!!! Thank you!!!!"  He relaxes, "So you've heard of this?"  "Of course, it's one of my fave albums.  Reminds me soooo much of my senior year in high school" I say, ripping the plastic off so that I can listen to "Joan of Arc".  He says, "So, it's music?"  I turned around, and said, "Duh, what did you think it was?" He goes, "I don't know! I never heard of this before! I thought it was some architecture show or movie or something!  I opened the box and thought, 'this can't be right....'"

Poor lad.  Does try.  That's not to say that we haven't had our fair share of clunker gifts, which we laugh about now.  Let's face it, men just aren't good at the gift thing.  Sure, a few guys get it right all the time, but not many do.  Most men wait until December 24th to do their shopping.  The first Christmas we were together, he got me, among other things, a chemistry set.  I was perplexed.  Because we always save what we think is the best gift for last, that was my last gift.  I never took chemistry in high school or college, and I never aspired towards the sciences.  Esp. since I suck at math.  

Then the following year he got me a giant colouring book of Andy Warhol designs.  I never understood that one either because never in my life did I ever say that I liked Warhol.   Just cause I'm a Deadhead and love the 60's doesn't automatically mean that I loved Andy Warhol too.  Last year he had a major anxiety attack over my birthday gifts, withdrew money from the bank account, and standing at the bank, literally halfway between Ben Franklin Crafts and Fred Meyer, he opted to go to Fred Meyer's toy dept. and get me board games.  Board.  Games.  In fact, it was around this time last year that I was kicking around doing a blog post called "Bored Games", about all the annoying holiday commercials for games, because who does game night, really?  The only reason I didn't do it is that I didn't want to rub salt in the wound, should Brian read my blog. 

If I've told him once I've told him a million times:  If you are having trouble w/ a gift idea, there's always a Ben Franklin gift card.  No amount is too small.  Even a $20 is appreciated. I think I'm pretty easy to please.  Instead, he keyed in on one innocuous sentence I made during a commercial, weeks earlier that, "I used to like playing Battleship when I was a kid".  That somehow translated to:  "Please get me Battleship for my birthday".  I can be hinting up a storm about something I really want, and it goes right over his head.  But one teeny, tiny comment made in passing and that's what he decides to buy.  It's a behavior that I actually find fascinating.  Back in California I apparently once said that I could use a little red wagon to haul around my craft supplies.  I got a Radio Flyer for Christmas.  I was so confused.  He goes, "remember?  when you said....?"  I was like, 'Oh, um, yeah....I guess.... if you say so..."

Anyway getting back to my birthday last year, I don't even remember what the other 2 games were because I've blocked it from my memory, since all 3 went back to the store.  I snuck out to Fred Meyer before Brian woke up the next day to return them. I told the customer service clerk that I felt so awful returning the gifts....but seriously, Battleship?  For a 45 year old woman? Who was an only child and only rarely played board games?  Brian came from a family that had regular game night events.  My family was soooo not like that.  My mom hated games and my dad used to crush me at Monopoly to the point where I would be in tears because I just wanted to buy the pretty properties, and he was putting hotels on Boardwalk and owned all the railroads.  I was out of money, and he'd be leaning over the board, picking through my pitiful, cheap, purple and light blue properties, taking them in lieu of what I owed for landing on yet another a hotel. Then laughing at me as I got a "Go Directly to Jail" card.  My mom is hissing, 'Johnny!  She's just a child! She doesn't understand the point of the game!"  I'm horribly scarred by those game experiences.  I loved my dad to pieces, but I saw another side of him whenever he played Monopoly.  The only game I've ever consistently loved is Trivial Pursuit.

But on the upside, Brian's also gotten me some amazing, super surprises that he thought of all on his own.  Like in 1994 for my 30th birthday, he had a 49ers jersey specially made with Brent Jones' name and #84 on it.  We couldn't find a Niners jersey w/ his name at that time and there was no search engine back then either.  You could only get Steve Young, Jerry Rice....Joe Montana.  So he had a sports shop in San Rafael silk screen "84" on the front and "JONES 84" on the back of a plain 49ers jersey.  A couple years ago he got me a beautiful glass paperweight with a satelite view of Cape Cod.  There was also one year where he got me a beautiful stained glass Christmas tree lamp.  And he also got me my very first Christopher Radko glass ornament.  For my 40th birthday he bought me the most unique past, present & future diamond pendant that I have ever seen.  They are in the shape of snowflakes and he had it on layaway for months as he chipped away at it.  It also came from a local, mom and pop jewelry store and they were the only ones who had anything that unique.  That jewelry store is now, sadly, out of business.  I am not a woman who has ever asked for, or expected, diamond jewelry.  That's what makes that necklace so special.  He did it because he wanted to give me something really nice and special, not because I am one of those women who nag and goad and guilt trip their husbands into buying expensive jewelry.

I know it's the thought that counts and believe me I do appreciate it.  I just find it amusing that the "Guy Giving Gift to Girl" thing seems to be the same across the board, since it seems most women have great stories about gift gaffes. 

Oh, and besides the ephemera, he also got me a silver crescent moon dragon pendant, a blue sparkly whale and ocean themed shirt and a Doctor Who mug, that has a TARDIS on one side that disappears with hot water, and which reappears on the other side of the mug.  Too bad it also doesn't make the TARDIS noise too! lol  


  1. Anonymous11:24 AM

    LOL JoJo. This was so fun to read.
    You right about men not knowing what to buy. My husband is always asking the kids "what do I buy for your Mom?"
    Battleship???? Hahahahaha priceless!

    Your story reminded me of one Valentines before my husband and I were married and I was really pressuring him because all my friends had been married for a few years already. He calls me at work a couple of days before and says " I got you something really good for Valentines day, I think you're really gonna like it". Of course I was all excited and started talking to my co-workers saying "this is it, I'm gonna get my ring"! Well his idea of what I really would like was a giant sized Toblerlone Chocolate Bar. LOL
    Can you believe it? I was soooo disappointed. Okay I do like chocolate but it's no diamond ring.

    Today, I don't need diamonds. If he's just wash the darn windows I'd be in heaven.

  2. Oh, I LOVE the sound of that tardis mug!

    I don't think anyone does "layaway" any more over here (we used to call it "paying off"). It was a good system. I persuaded a bed store owner to do it for me about 15 years ago, told him what I wanted and he would hunt it out for me when I got close to paying him the amount I wanted to pay.

    As for men buying gifts, my husband bought me a pair of shoes for my 21st. I wanted them, chose them, fine - but it was my 21st - he never even got me an extra surprise! Men have NO idea.

    See, I'm 57 now and long divorced, but it still rankles.

  3. Anonymous2:42 PM

    At least he TRIES bless him ;0)

  4. Anonymous3:09 PM

    Happy Birthday, JoJo...a little late. I would've killed for the Andy Warhol coloring book!

  5. Happy Birthday, Jojo!
    Twenty-Twenty-Six - I like that!

    And your Birthday Stories remind me of anything I've wanted for my dogs in the past. These things often have strange names... from Clickers, to Dummy Wests, to Dead Fowls...

  6. Wow, JoJo, this post is perfect. Men are totally clueless when it comes to this stuff. I wish I was a lesbian, but then the VDO crush would be Pointless. It's like the idea of something romantic, like a lovely necklace, just totally disappears a few weeks into a relationship and it's back to boardgames, star wars toys, and goonies trading cards (really what i got last christmas :) thanks for letting me vent). So so true.

  7. Your post got me thinking about my dad. One year he got my mom a lovely pair of diamond earrings, just one problem...She didn't have pierced ears. They'd been married for over 40 years, he never noticed they weren't pierced! In the end she got them pierced, even though she didn't want too..

  8. I have to come back to finish reading, but I wanted to say Happy Natal Day! I'm so glad you got what you wanted. *rain et al.

    I love the dusty rock and coal pellets bit. That is hilarious! (Oh to be fly on that wall.) :-)

  9. Bev - I laughed so hard at the Toblerone story. Ouch!! So when did he finally propose?

    Val - Layaway is making a comeback in these tough times. K-Mart started advertising for their holiday layaway plan in the summer. And all he gave you was a pair of shoes? No wonder you left him!

    Diane - That he does.

    Nantz - if it had been the soup cans and stuff I would have done it. But the drawings were kind of strange. It was a huge book too, like 24" x 18".

    TJara - Thanks! But at least the stuff you want makes sense for your agility training.

    Jean - Your hubby gave you goonies trading cards last year? Did you ask for them?

    Tess - I laughed at your story too. I can just imagine him sitting there stunned, "All these year I thought they were pierced!" hahaha

    PF - Thanks!

  10. Anonymous7:50 AM

    JoJo, we didn't get engaged till the following Christmas. He was going to give it to me all romantic like at dinner one evening but yet again I think he figured it out I was expecting it. So instead of that, which would have been a great story to tell( and is the story I tell)he gave it to me in bed one night. He had it hidden under my pillow. Now we didn't live together,and both his and mine parents would have gasped if they new we were in bed together (hehe). Len and I dated for 6 years before we finally go married!

  11. I confess that I haven't a clue about buying presents. I usually run around quizzing any woman I know and bump into as to what a good present would be. Mind you, I'm as bad when my sons ask me what I'd like for my birthday/Christmas.


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