As a child, I always exchanged Christmas gifts with my friend Marjorie who lived next door. She had been my playmate from the time I was old enough to dress up dolls or play hide- and- go- seek.
I don’t think I ever actually chose Marjorie’s gift. Mom controlled the cash at our house and was able to stretch a dollar better than anyone I have ever known. She did all the shopping. I quite often, painstakingly, wrapped the chosen gift in wrapping paper that had been saved from the year before (gift bags had not become available in my childhood years). Dusting powder for bath time, a book, a sparkly pin, a box of lace-edged handkerchiefs and warm mitts were the types of things we exchanged.
Marjorie was two or three years older than I, and after ten years or so, especially when Marjorie had started high school and I was still a pigtailed-girl in elementary school, we spent less time together. Eventually Mom announced that she thought it was time that I stopped giving Marjorie a gift. By then I had formed other friendships and was exchanging gifts with these girls who were in my class at school.
I did not give much thought to this decision until the December evening when there was a knock at the door and, upon opening it, I discovered Marjorie standing there with a Christmas gift for me! Mom immediately took charge, probably because I had frozen to the spot, speechless and feeling embarrassed that I had nothing to give.
“Heather, invite Marjorie in. She hasn’t seen our tree”.
I wondered what was so special about our tree but I did as I was told. Marjorie took off her snow-covered winter boots, coat, hat and mitts and then followed me into the living room. Meanwhile, Mom disappeared, saying over her shoulder that she’d be right back. I heard her quick steps going up the stairs.
Marjorie commented on how nice the tree looked and somehow I managed to find things to talk about. Marjorie didn’t seem anxious to leave. After all, I had not handed her a gift which had been the custom for years.
About the time the conversation was starting to limp badly, Mom magically appeared with a wrapped box, handed it to me and said, “Don’t let Marjorie leave without her gift, Heather”.
I think maybe Mom and I could have earned academy awards that night! As she arrived on the scene with a gift ready for Marjorie, I am sure Mom must have wondered as to whether I would “spill the beans”. Somehow I managed to assume a “poker face” as I handed the gift to Marjorie, becoming Mom’s good “partner in harmless deceit”. I expect Marjorie received a gift that had been meant for my stocking, but Mom never really explained other than to say to me afterwards that it was just a little something she had had tucked away.
Try as I might, even though I am sure Mom must have told me, I don’t know what I gave to Marjorie nor can I remember what I received. The important thing was that the friendship with our neighbours remained intact. Over the years, Marjorie and I never lost contact, even though careers and marriages, children and grandchildren, took us on different paths and to different locations.
After over sixty years we still exchange Christmas greetings even though we rarely see each other and we live miles apart. The differences are that a greeting card has replaced the gift and I no longer depend on my mother. However, Mom’s influence is still felt; I always keep a few things tucked away on what I call my “gift shelf”. I am ready to rescue any last minute or unplanned gift-giving situations!