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Happy Holidays

Sine Qua Non

When I was somewhere around 11, the brother closest to me in age (he’d have been 12 at the time), who was not allowed in my room (I was the only girl; I needed my own quiet sanctuary of solitude), used to like to test my patience by wandering into my room to look for trouble while I was hanging out by myselfusually reading.  He’d burst open my door with great bravado and saunter around aimlessly, whistling, watching me, to see if he’d achieved maximum irritation.  I’d raise an eyebrow at him, but continue reading.  I’d know he was just trying to get a rise out of me.  Some days it worked, some days not so much...  It all depended on what kind of a mood I was in, how involved in my book I was, or how inclined I was to either play, or pick a fight.

On one particular occasion, he was having trouble getting any response from me (which was really the only point - long summer days can get boring for a 12-yr-old socially oriented boy not nearly as into books as his nerdy sister, and any interaction is better than none), so he began snooping.  My room was very small (an
oddly shaped, not quite 10’ x 8’ broom closet, barely large enough for a twin bed, a miniature bedside table, and a tiny chest of drawers), and had recently been cleaned, so, unfortunately, this didn’t bother me quite nearly as much as he’d hoped.  When a peek in the closet got no reaction, he moved on to my dresser, starting with the top drawer, which was both for unmentionables, as well as those odd catch-all items that one doesn’t quite have an appropriate place for.  He sniffed the cachet, put rolled up socks down his shirt, underwear on his head, and generally rifled through whatever he could find, all the while keeping a watchful eye on me to gauge my interest level.   I was entirely too amused to have continued reading by that point, but I’d stubbornly remained glued to the same page I’d been on when he walked in, having no intention of letting him know that he was having any sort of effect.  Eventually, he made a big show of taking a handful of things, holding them each up and out with a grand gesture, flourishing them about like a magician waves a wand, and then left, I imagine with the expectation that I would follow, in order to retrieve my pinched belongings.
I didn’t.
I was three quarters through
The Horse and His Boy, probably for the eighth time that week, and I wasn’t going anywhere.  I put his antics out of my mind, and didn’t think of it again.
Until later.
Some part of this story resulted in one of the most ridiculous costumed capers I’ve ever participated in, complete with pictures, but, that portion of the tale I’ll save for another time.
The next reminder of this occurrence didn’t show up until that Christmas.
A couple weeks or so before the holiday, as gifts were finding their way under the tree in increasing numbers by the day, this brother proudly brought down a sizable package he’d wrapped himself in a brown paper bag with a giant red crepe bow, addressed to me, and he challenged me to guess what was in it.  I had no idea, and couldn’t fathom a response.  But he insisted I hazard a stab at it.  

                Just take a random shot a dark.
I threw out some incidental speculation.
Another hypothesis.
                Wrong again.
He was still excited, encouraging me to pick it up, shake it, feel it, touch it, taste it.  
Taste it?
                Well, you know what I mean. 
Three more postulations. 
                No, uhn-uh, Nyet. 
Okay, I give up.  Not gonna tell me? 
                Why would he tell me?  Guess I’d just have to wait until Christmas. 
Of course, he couldn’t just let it go at that.  I’d NEVER guess what it was, he assured me.  He hassled me for days, right up until Christmas Eve. 
On Christmas Eve, it’s a family tradition that everyone gets to open ONE present before turning in to wait for the big day.  Naturally, I chose his.  Not because I was super excited about it (though, I imagine I was, by that point), but because I wanted to put an end to the Chinese water torture that was his constant harassment for me to deduce the contents on conjecture.  When it came time for my turn, I reached for the plainest wrapping with the greatest enthusiasm, and all the hopeful anticipation of
Ralphie decoding Annie’s secret message.
More paper.
Still more paper.
and a brick.
What the?
My brother was rolled over on his back, holding his sides, kicking his legs in the air, he was laughing so hard.  I nodded in resigned appreciation.  This was my brother, after all.  I was accustomed to being the brunt of his jokes.
Lovely.  Thanks.  Thanks a lot. 
He wiped tears of laughter from his eyes, but promised that wasn’t all there was.  He really did get me a gift, I just had to keep digging.  With renewed, albeit somewhat diffused fervor, I began displacing random “packing contents” from the box, and eventually discovered,
halfway through, a thimble.  I collected thimbles at the time, and although I can’t now remember where this one came from, or what was on it, I appreciated the addition to my shadow box, and a thought that was specifically for and about me.
                But that’s not all!  There’s more!  My brother wanted me to know.  Apparently, the joke wasn’t over.   I should keep digging, to get to the best part.
Another round of digging, emptying the box, turning it upside down and shaking it, wondering if all the extra work was the joke, and there was only a mess on the floor to be cleaned up (Surprise! - Merry Christmas!), seeing his concern – What? No!  It’s in there, I promise – then rifling back through the papers until finally
A pin.  A Strawberry Shortcake pin. 
A used Strawb-
wait a minute
This is MY pin!  You took my pin out of my room and wrapped it up for me for Christmas???!
More riotous laughter.
I can’t remember anything else I got for Christmas that year.  The material desires of 12-yr-old me don’t stand out quite as much as the memories of special moments shared with the family that raised me, and the messages of love that they passed on to me.  But that gift has remained firmly implanted in my mind for decades, because of what my brother said to me without words:
I like having fun with you.
On my first Christmas with Homebuddy, we’d both been invited to my folks’ house for Christmas dinner.  He’d never met them, so he didn’t know quite what to expect, or what we should bring as gifts.  I tried to prepare him for my family as much as possible, though, it was tough, because, I wasn’t sure I was completely ready to face them myself.  We’d been estranged for a number of years previously, though we’d been working on reconciling for the last couple, since they’d moved back to the state, and this would be only the second Christmas I’d spent with them in the last twelve it was still a bit surreal for me.  But I told him not to worry too much about gifts, that my family had never really thought of themselves as that great at gift-giving, so every parcel passed around always comes with the loudly proclaimed pre-warning: "You will NOT hurt my feelings AT ALL if you end up having to take this back."  My folks always made sure that everyone had plenty to open, and at least one item that each person really especially wanted.  And then there were a lot of packages of socks, stockings filled with pecans, and other miscellaneous “filler” items.

I’d actually joked to Homebuddy, watch my mom get me something ridiculous like earrings because she hasn’t noticed that I’ve been wearing the same set of matched pairs for the last two decades.
The next day, I had to pinch Homebuddy and bite my tongue ’til I was fighting back tears of pain to keep us both from busting out in fits of giggles when I opened one of the most gaudy, obnoxious set of fake jewel encrusted bauble hoop earrings I’ve seen in quite some time.
But I thanked my Mom, graciously, and I meant it.  Because, I remember a time in my teens when she would have never have allowed me to wear something like that out of the house.  Some of the most vicious fights we’d had were over my sense of “style” and how she felt I was not presenting myself in a fashion appropriate for an upstanding Christian young lady.   Despite her best intentions, I continued to be drawn to the types of accessories that were popular for young girls in the 80s, and, she continued to try and control my appearance.  It was a losing battle for everyone involved.

Mom either hadn’t really noticed that age had mellowed my wardrobe habits quite a bit, or perhaps just wasn’t thinking about it when she bought those earrings.  She’d just remembered that I used to like that sort of thing, but, more to the point, age had mellowed her perspective, too, as well as what battles she thought were worth fighting, and which could just be let go, enough to be able to give me a gift that would say, without saying:
I’ve learned to accept you… just the way you are.
In the decade that I wasn’t connected with my family, holidays could be tough.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were the roughest, because they’re pretty much all about being with family, and, practically everyone you encounter has something special going on.  Plus, with all the buildup, hubbub and hype everywhere you go, they’re pretty hard to ignore; not like a birthday, which only you would notice getting missed if you didn’t tell anyone.  You’d think this would turn me into a regular Scrooge, but, no I’m just not that guy.  My upbringing had been entrenched in such holiday tradition so ingrained in my sense of self that I was never willing to let go of the spirit of the season.  I came to appreciate the holidays on a much deeper, almost metaphysical level.  I rejoiced (and still do) that there is a period of a few weeks every year when most of the world, from many cultures, backgrounds, and religions slow down long enough to take stock of life, and celebrate what more or less amounts to the same message in most any language.  Ramadan, Samhain, Hanukkah, Solstice, Pancha Ganapati, Festivus, Christmas, Signature, Kwanzaa….. However you say it, it still comes across:
Peace on Earth.  Good will to all mankind.

Because I knew any year that I might not – and probably wouldn’t – be opening up any Christmas gifts for myself, to me, it was all that much more important then to make sure that I could still give them, because, that really had always been the most fun part of the entire season to me, and, I just wasn’t willing to give it up, with or without family to spend time with on the actual celebration day.  I could always find someone to buy presents for, even if that meant stocking up at the dollar store something special for each of my employees.  I would never just get multiple versions of the same thing and hand them out to everyone.  No, each person got to have me take a few moments carefully thinking about how I related to who they are, and how much I appreciate the contribution they make.  I’d spend hours up late at night cutting and taping and pretty-fying, to bring in dozens of small, individually wrapped and distinctively marked packages, all of which were different, but, each of which, in their own way, said without saying:
I’m glad you’re on my team.
I realize the concept that “it’s the thought that counts” may seem cliché, or even trite, but it’s never quite as in-your-face as when there’s no thought to even be taken into consideration.  At all.  It’s a harsh reality to have to admit to yourself that there’s not a soul in the world thinking enough about you to give you something to open – anything – on a day of giving that’s practically universal.  It’s hard not to ask yourself, really, how much of a total loser must I be?
Me, I'd never want anyone to have to feel that way. 
Nobody should ever have to get through Christmas with bupkis to open.
Because, the reward that one cherishes as the true treasure from receiving a gift is never about what’s in the package that the present comes wrapped in.  It’s about what just getting the box says to the person who receives it, from the person who gives it.  It could be saying a number of different things, depending on the nature of the relationship between the two, and the circumstances of the giving, but, if you listen hard enough, you can hear it saying, in perhaps not so many words:
                You are
                You are valued
                You are
But most importantly, it always says,
                You MATTER.
That’s a message that everyone needs to be reminded from time to time, because it’s so easy to forget.

It IS the thought that counts, and, sometimes, it's the thought that's what's needed most.

This season, hold off on your rant over commercialism, the appropriate seasonal greeting, or if Uncle John's had one too many pickles. Set aside the fruitcake and mistletoe.  Forget about making a list and checking it twice.  Don't worry about spending a lot of time or money.  Just find some small way to make sure the people in your life know you found room in all the hustle and bustle and craziness to pause for a moment to think of them, and show them that means something to you.  It might mean more to them than you may ever know.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

LJ Idol | Season 8 Week 7 - Topic: BUPKIS
This post has been brought to you through an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love,
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                                                                                                                                        ...and thanks for stopping by.


( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 8th, 2011 12:23 am (UTC)
This is such a sweet and thoughtful entry! :)
Dec. 8th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Dec. 8th, 2011 02:31 am (UTC)
Tiyr belief is close to mine. I don't care if I get a single gift. But I love to give gifts to friends, coworkers, people I interact with all year long and gift cards for government workers since they can't accept gifts except cards $25 or less.

Having been estranged from my family more than once sometimes for years, I understand and empathize with you there.

Heart disease and cancer, most of my family are gone so enjoy their craziness while you can.

Loved the entry, nostalgic for me, well done.
Dec. 8th, 2011 02:41 am (UTC)
I appreciate that, it means a lot.
Dec. 8th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC)
Wow! Excellently done. I'm still digesting this. So many thoughts about the meaning of family, of gift-giving, of connection.

I thought this was a wonderful juxtaposition to the idol topic. Take this with a grain of salt, of course, but to me the juxtaposition to bupkis comes through really nicely without the last line about bupkis. There's a wonderful lyrical quality that runs through this essay that's sort of interrupted by this last line.

Just a thought...I loved the piece. Your brother's prank is fabulous!!!! I agree, it was a really meaningful nonverbal gesture.

Thank you for sharing these parts of yourself.
Dec. 8th, 2011 04:20 am (UTC)
I have often written entries that did not directly include the exact word or phrase of the topic, but whose overall theme alluded to it effectively. It was a conscious decision on my part in this case to use the word,* because the word itself was commonplace in my family, growing up, particularly by one of my brothers (not the one mentioned here... I have 4 others). Though, when I was younger, I often misheard it, and for years thought it was pronounced, "buttkiss." I seriously considered writing on that, and other follies of creative hearing, but this idea spoke to me more clearly, as if it needed to be told right now, and I needed to tell it right now.

*However, based on your feedback, I have moved the bupkis reference to a slightly earlier portion of the final text section, which left the ending a little flat, so I gave that a more resolute finish that matches the lyrical quality you mentioned.

My brother's prank was fabulous... thanks for thinking so. I could very likely write an entire book about the things my brothers and I did to one other in our youth. Though, this one did remind me recently that he can't actually take full credit for the prank... his older brother had done it to him the year before, giving him a harmonica wrapped with a cinder block and tormenting him to guess what he'd got. He also confessed that the pin was an after thought at the last minute... he'd forgotten he'd taken it until he came across it accidentally in his stuff one day, and then devised this addition to his plan in order to not have to keep it, but also not have to give it back in any fashion that would force him to sheepishly confess he'd had it in his stash for the better part of year. Luckily, it was not terribly important to me (I'd forgotten I ever had such a thing until I saw it again), and had not been missed.

Edited at 2011-12-08 04:29 am (UTC)
(no subject) - shimmerdream - Dec. 10th, 2011 01:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - karmasoup - Dec. 13th, 2011 02:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 9th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
Nobody should ever have to get through Christmas with bupkis to open.


I would have killed your brother ;) No, really, my husband has a similar story with one of his sisters. Instead of a brick, though, it was boxes. Boxes that kept getting smaller with every box she opened. My MIL, according to story, pretended to be mortified. She'll maintain to this day that she was mortified!

But then again sibling are supposed to torture each other ;)

I love the fact that you do not forget anybody. I wish that was true for most people.

Dec. 9th, 2011 03:46 am (UTC)
Homebuddy and I did that with Chiclet once with boxes... he got her a gift of a $200 shopping spree at Target, which came in the form of a card, but I said couldn't give her just a card for Christmas... we had to prolong the suspense and make it more fun. He got tired of wrapping after the second box, and wanted to just unwrapped boxes inside each other, but I insisted each one had to be wrapped. In the end, there were 12 boxes (remember, there's only a credit card in the final one, so that doesn't take up much space at all), going all the way up to an appliance box sized to hold an oven. She was giggling with each one, exclaiming each time... oh, look... it's a box!

And, yeah, there was a little of sibling torture in my family growing up... just another every day part of life.
Dec. 9th, 2011 10:45 am (UTC)
This is so sweet - well-crafted, too. This feels like it might be a publishable piece for a women's magazine or a Christian magazine. And you fill me with Christmas spirit, too!
Dec. 13th, 2011 02:17 am (UTC)
I wasn't really intending to put any particular religious bent on it, but hoping to make it accessible from any perspective, though, hopefully that means it is nondescript enough for Christians or anyone to get something out it. Thanks for reading, and for the compliment... glad I was able to get you in the seasonal mode! ;)
Dec. 9th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
I - LOL, brothers. When my brother and I were kids we, (along with my dad's questionable assistance), twice did something like this to our mother. First, on mother's day, we gave her a huge box with lots of little boxes and finally a brick (with what we thought were BEAUTIFUL earrings taped to the side). And for her birthday one year, we took another huge box and wrapped...our cat...inside of it. I am not sure who was more traumatized by the experience--my mother or the cat.

III - This was very sweet and touching. :)
Dec. 13th, 2011 02:27 am (UTC)
Okay, the cat thing is hysterical! I'm surprised it didn't give the whole thing away crying and clawing to get out. My mom would have jumped out of her skin. Yeah, my life was full of laughs growing up.
Dec. 9th, 2011 07:56 pm (UTC)
you've shared some really lovely thoughts and memories here. :)
Dec. 13th, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
Well, it is a time for sharing, after all! ;) Thanks for stopping by.
Dec. 10th, 2011 04:08 am (UTC)
Your entry made me remember that I once put a bunch of dog fur in a jar, wrapped it up and gave it to my sister for Christmas.
Dec. 13th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC)
OMG, that is so crazy and hysterical! I'm sure there must be an incredible story in there!

Edited at 2011-12-16 09:35 pm (UTC)
Dec. 10th, 2011 12:25 pm (UTC)
This is so lovely, such a sense of family. You know, I have had that same kind of exchange with my siblings, the joking and the teasing, and it's this that ensured we would have more than one child. I couldn't imagine a child of mine growing up without having that special connection with another.

It really is the thought that counts.
Dec. 13th, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
I'd probably be of the same mind, if I'd ever gotten around to having kids... just feels like they shouldn't be alone. And, it's not just the memories that I cherish... as we've all grown up, each of my brothers has become uniquely special to me in his own way that I can't share with any other humans on the planet, and I could never deny a child a bond that strong.
Dec. 10th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Such a sweet entry! I get a little annoyed when people rant about the commercialism every year... it doesn't HAVE to be that way. You can choose to celebrate by showing those around you that you love them and take the commercialism out of it yourself.

The first story about your brother reminds me of my own brother, though he's much younger. One year, he was soooo excited to give me his gift. I opened it up to find a small box full of odds and ends. I remember a marble, but everything else was just random. He laughed and laughed, but I do remember that part of the gift was something that was already mine. Again, he pretty much said that he liked having fun with me. I loved that he did.
Dec. 13th, 2011 08:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, they're great, aren't they? There were times I felt I had to learn to love them, but, I did get around to it... eventually. ;) Thanks for stopping by.
Dec. 11th, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC)
This was fabulous, such a deep and thought-provoking read! I loved it :)
Dec. 13th, 2011 08:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks... glad I could touch you.
Dec. 11th, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC)
Thats a very nice peace with a wonderful sentament.
Though the fact that you live with your homebuddy say a great deal as well.
You are an attractive and interesting person.
Dec. 11th, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
Such wonderful memories and lovely feelings. Very very nice.
Dec. 13th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I think it's important to hang on to the good memories, and to feel lovely about everything that you can. Thanks for stopping by.
Dec. 11th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
These were all great stories, but the first was definitely my favorite.

"He’d burst open my door with great bravado and saunter around aimlessly, whistling, watching me, to see if he’d achieved maximum irritation."

I think you did a wonderful job of portraying your mutual love for one another quite well here. Well told!

Dec. 13th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
Yeah... oddly enough, he's much more mellow and much less goofy as an adult than he was as a kid. As a kid, he was both a barrel of laughs, as well as a pain in the ass. These days, he's not much of either, but he is a very good, kind, decent man, so, that's certainly a fair trade, I suppose. I'm glad that came through, and that you enjoyed it... thanks for dropping in!
Dec. 12th, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
Every few years someone in my family pulls some sort of gag gift. Last year, we all went in together to get my stepdad a laptop for his birthday, but what we wrapped up for him to open was a model ship that my brother had previously given him (because he'd always wanted one), but that he'd never opened. It was fantastic.

I find as I get older, I'm much more invested in the gifts I'm giving than any gift I get. The real payoff of Christmas is watching people I love open their gifts.
Dec. 13th, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
Oh my... that'll teach him to open his presents from pervious years, eh? Yeah, I'm kind of the same way about giving... I put a lot more thought into it than getting gifts... in fact, if you were to ask me what I want most any year, I probably couldn't tell ya. Thanks for stopping in and sharing your thoughts.
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