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December 24, 2007

Best of Breed

I usually contribute to the holiday chaos with a regifting party, where my friends trade odd gifts we’ve received over the year—-a spooky Christmas angel that stutters in Japanese, a pair of panties made with candy necklaces, a Bedazzler kit. But this year, the season snuck up on me and so the best I can do is offer up a column commemorating the truly memorable gift.

At the top of my list: A can of tennis balls. You probably can’t imagine being talked into giving someone a can of tennis balls in the class gift exchange. You’d object. You’d refuse to go to school that day. You’d show up with nothing before you’d hand a girl three Wilson Pros in front of the whole 7th grade. Not me. I fell for the sell-job: “They’re brand new!” “She loves tennis!” “Look how the bow sits so perfectly on top!”

When I asked my husband what gift he’ll always remember, he too found himself back in adolescence, when his cousin from Kentucky gave him Jovan Soap-on-a-rope. This excellent product hung conveniently around the shower knobs and so was never subject to the softening and deterioration that could happen to untethered soap. So handy. And Masculine with a capital M. Here I quote from “Jovan Musk. The sexy smell of warm skin. Stroke it on, and it becomes a scent like no one else's. Because it works with your body's natural chemistry. (And later, with hers.) Jovan Musk lasts all day. Since a man like you can make things happen at any hour.”

Then there are the special offerings that make you snap your fingers and wish you’d thought of. I once watched my brother bring my mother to tears on a Christmas morning. It seemed he had been to a bookstore, because my mother loved to read, and not ten feet in the door, he was struck by a certain title, “Home.” “This is perfect for Mom! She sells residential real estate!” My mom smiled at her son as she slid her thumbnail under the invisible scotch tape and opened the paper to show a paperback novel. Oh my God, I thought to myself, it’s fiction. It could be about a mental institution, or an underground bomb shelter cum heroin lab, or a perverted mortgage broker. My mom loved it.

Later that morning, that same brother would give me a pack of Goody barrettes in a folded drugstore bag and maybe a deck of cards. It went on this way for years—-a bag of BRACH’s red hots (“since you love them!”), a Captain & Tenille 45, a pack of lined notebook paper. Life was good.

So this year, when someone hands you a homemade ham and nut pie or a tree garland made of printer cartridges, remind yourself that this gem…this choice doodad…this undervalued treasure will be the only gift you’ll remember in five years. And you and I both know that a good laugh and a story you can tell for the rest of your life beats an italian cashmere crewneck any day.