Thursday, May 21, 2009

Counting Thoughts

Meredith at Like Merchant Ships is accumulating a list of graduation gift ideas. Reading people's ideas makes me glad I don't know any graduates this year. (Except B6 of course, but really, you don't expect a gift, too, after all we've done for you? Oh, and the grass needs mowed.)

The most popular sure-fire gift is that of laundry supplies and quarters, but there are still the nay-sayers who point out that college laundries don't use quarters anymore--or that they wouldn't have appreciated nasty, harsh chemical detergent--or that all they got when they graduated from high school was laundry, laundry, laundry.

In other words, there is no sure-fire gift. For one thing, a law of inevitability states that whatever clever, unique gift you come up with, seventy-five percent of the recipient's acquaintances will have come up with the exact same idea independently. (It's the same power that causes girls everywhere to grow up dreaming of the really unique, beautiful name they will name their babies someday and then simultaneously name them all "Jennifer" or "Emma.")

We were fortunate in that the conglomerate gifts we got as newlyweds were towels, which always come in handy sooner or later, and large platters, which come in handy pretty often when you have a lot of graduating siblings, store fairly compactly, and also are really excellent for re-gifting. If you were unfortunate enough to have it be toasters or foot massagers, I hope they included receipts. (Another law here states that there will be receipts in all but the least attractive model.)

The truth is, I'm terrible at gift giving and at gift receiving. And at gift requesting, for that matter. It's not so much that I have a mind above sordid greed as that I resent the existence of the physical universe. If you give me an actual *object* I'd have to find a place to put it. And remember to use it. And worry if I didn't like it as much as you obviously intended by the amount of time and money you spent on it. And if I got you an actual object, I'd have to spend actual money on it and then put it somewhere and not forget where I put it and find wrapping paper that wasn't too crinkled and then wonder if it was really useful to you or if all that trouble was just wasted. When I can see clearly that what you need is more time or more appreciative relatives or more sleep at night or a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the universe, trying to pass off a doohickey--or even laundry quarters--seems a paltry replacement.

Some people, of course, dismiss such concerns. These are the ones who pass on the gifts that leave us all blinking in astonishment. We are still trying to figure out what to do with the twenty-inch stained glass window ornament shaped like a jewel-toned fruitbasket. The givers were not people we knew well, but presumably they scratched their heads and thought: "What does every young couple just starting out need? I know! A garishly-colored suncatcher that will be too big for the windows of any house they will be able to afford for a decade!" We haven't the heart to pass it on and have tried to sell it but gotten no takers.

But even the safest gifts are fraught with danger. Someone also gave us a large coffee maker, which would be a very practical gift for many people but we not only don't drink coffee, I can't stand the smell of it in the house. Overnight guests are kindly given directions to the nearest Starbucks. (It was passed on to somewhere it was needed, though, so no waste.)

You know it's inevitable that this will happen. Start giving out scented candles and everyone on your list will develop allergies. Pass out gift certificates to Walmart and they will all become labor organizers. That always leaves cash, but then there are people who are insulted by cash because it shows you didn't care enough to think of something personal, not to mention it leaves no doubt in anyone's mind as to the combined state of your bank account and generosity, which in my case is generally pretty small.

I just don't get the insistence that we must give something because it's the thought that counts. Fine. I thought long and hard about it. I still couldn't think of anything to get you. Happy life! Come over for tea sometime.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Best graduation gift I ever got: a good dictionary! After 21 years it was looking a little shabby and we just "replaced" it earlier this year.

Did we get rid of the old one? Of course not! After so many years of noble service, it was fixed up with book tape and put out to pasture in the reference section upstairs.