Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 16, 2009

A shower head and shoe polish

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is wrapping the pile of packages we have under our tree and seeing the reactions of the recipients when they open them.

When the girls were little, Art started what has become a tradition. He would come home burdened with boxes of wrapped gifts and each would contain a number on the tag. Only he knew their contents and he kept track with a list that he kept in his pocket.

In recent years, I've taken over a good share of the wrapping and I've continued with the numbering system. This year, we had close to 40 gifts under our tree at home and 65 under mother-in-law Donna's tree in Wisconsin.

While most of the packages contain "normal" presents, in Art's family, there has a been a long tradition of giving gag gifts. For years, someone would get a mug that had the handle on the inside. It was that person's responsibility to give it to another member of the family the next year. Art's Uncle Art was notorious for being tight with his money so one year his family gave him a new wallet, complete with moths in the coin pocket.

We've continued the gag gift tradition in our own family. One year, we gave daughter Katie a six-pack of canned sweet peas because she liked them so well. Another year, Art found a small can with coal in it and put it in daughter Mariya's stocking. Although he meant it as a joke, it kind of hurt her feelings. But it all worked out in the end because now she makes certain he gets it in his stocking every year. However, he turned the tables on her this year by giving her some "coal" candy.

And I surprised Art by giving him the $2 fruit cake he pointed out at Big Lots. He gave me a shower head since ours had some corrosion and lime deposits on it.

A year or two ago, Donna bought Art's brother Tommy a snow blower so he could keep her driveway and walkway clean. But it came without a manual as it was a display model. Tommy had tried to get one from Sears several times, but to no avail. So Art downloaded the manual from the Web and printed it and we boxed it as a gift for Tommy this past Christmas.

Donna had remarked one day that she sure would like to spruce up her old pair of shoes, so we got her a can of black shoe polish - which she thought was a great gift.

A friend had seen Mariya and Katie shopping at a local store before Christmas and asked if they were getting gifts for Art and me. Mariya said they were trying to find shoelaces for Art since one of his had broken. She said they could probably wrap them up and give them to him for Christmas and he'd be perfectly content.

The friend was incredulous. "Really?" he said, laughing. "You're kidding!"

They weren't. They know their practical father pretty well.

But Mariya is practical too. One of her gifts was a box of tools - something she had requested.

Donna always talks about how beautiful the wrapped gifts look - even though I use mostly old paper that we've saved from past years. Some of the paper is pretty wrinkled and ratty on the edges, but tricks with tape, tags and bows usually mask any imperfections.

"It's such a shame to unwrap them," Donna says, sighing. "They're prettier on the outside than they are on the inside." Then she laughs, knowing full well that many of the boxes contain items that will bring chuckles.

This got me to thinking about the perfect gag gift for Donna. I told Mariya and younger daughter Katie and they did the work. They selected scraps of old Christmas paper from Donna's gift-wrap box, arranged them in a framed collage and wrapped it. On the gift tag they put, "Now the inside is as pretty as the outside."

We saved that gift for last. When Donna read the label, she frowned, but was unable to decode the meaning.

But even when she had it open, she didn't understand the significance until the girls explained that they had carefully selected the paper to show a variety of colors and patterns from the years we've been using her old paper.

"Well, what a clever idea!" she exclaimed - and immediately ordered us to hang it over her dining room table as a reminder of our crazy Christmas gifts.

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