The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Looking a Gift Horse . . .

This week, just for fun, we decided to take a look back at gifts past and examine the best and the worst.

Colette: Over the years, I have been collecting pictures of trees, which my son has drawn or painted.  His first tree is from Kindergarten and then second grade, fourth grade, etc…He’s been giving me a tree picture every two years on Mother’s Day since he was 5 years old.  These trees and the growth and personality they reveal are my favorite gifts.  I received my last tree, a year and a half ago, when he graduated from high school and went off to college.  Every time I look at those trees, I smile.  The worst gift I’ve ever received (sorry Grandma) was indicative of just how out of touch my Grandmother was (is) with her grandkids and our lives.  When my sisters and I were 14, 16 and 18 years old, we all got the same crocheted pot holder for Christmas but in different colors.  Let me add here that my grandmother doesn’t crochet – she bought those pot holders at the store.  Let me also add, the pot holders each had a large, plastic face glued on the front, of a little Native American girl, with long yarn braids, so the pot holder was not only hideous, it was useless as a pot holder.

The best present I’ve ever given, or at least the biggest, was the car I bought for my son on Valentine’s Day.  (Note to self:  buying a brand new driver a nice car is a lousy idea.  Two months later he totaled that car – so this gift also wins as the shortest lived).  No one was hurt, except the car, and somewhere in the middle of the Prescott National Forest is a massive tree missing a lot of bark.


When we first started dating, my now husband,  Eric called me super-excited, “I was just walking around this store and I saw it and it screamed ‘Emily.'” A few days later a package arrived in the mail. In it were two wooden cats sitting in a boat fishing. My roommate said to me, “You’ll have to treasure that forever” (or, you know, as long as we were dating).Then there was the Valentine’s Day he went to Walgreens and bought me pink things — chapstick, a loofa, and some sugar-free candies (he claims he didn’t notice they were sugar-free).  As recently as my last birthday (less than a month ago), he came home with a paper bag of records and gave it to me. I’m now the proud owner of 10 CC Live! Am I closet fan of 10 CC? No. Is he trying to send me a message? Maybe?

There have been other bad gifts from Eric (and many wonderful gifts as well including a membership to a first edition signed book club), but there’s a moral to this story and I’m going to move along to it rather than telling the story of the plastic funeral plant, the oversized red turtleneck, or the 100 pack of Flav-o-Ice.

The Moral: The other night we reminisced about these gifts, I told Eric to never stop reaching for the stars. The memories of these bad gifts give me more joy than any good gift he could give (that’s probably not entirely true, but you get the point). He assured me that he’d never stop going “off list” for Christmas and birthday gifts. He’s true to his word. Later that evening I was googling something and I noticed that he’d googled “custom sharpened pencils. “Am I getting custom sharpened pencils for Christmas? What is a custom sharpened pencil?” Unfortunately, Eric said, the custom sharpened pencil guy was too backlogged so there will be no custom sharpened pencils this year. There’s still hope though, I also noticed he’d also been googling for fancy office supplies.

I should note that I’m in no way immune to bad gift giving. In college I gave my roommate a teapot shaped like a double-decker bus. I don’t know what I was thinking when I purchased this item — I guess I was drawn in by its shiny red exterior. It couldn’t actually be used – it was a set-about and I knew she hated knick-knacky things. She had no great affection for Great Britain. Anyhow I realized it was a horrible gift a couple weeks after I gave it and told her she could get rid of it, but she was too polite to do so. Instead, I’m pretty certain she trained her cat to destroy it. A few months later her cat went on a running rampage through our apartment and went head first into the teapot. Cats are typically pretty dexterous, so was it an accident? I suppose it’s possible. Needless to say, she was released of the burden of having to move the teapot when we graduated a few weeks later.

Pam: The best present that I ever got for Christmas, without a doubt, was when my sister and I each got our very own mini-bike! I remember coming into the living room on Christmas morning and screeching with jubilation when I spotted 2 glitter-red motorcycle helmets sitting perched on the arm of the white sofa. I was elated!! I didn’t see the minibike to go with it, though, and Daddy said “We couldn’t afford the bike this year, you just got the helmet, but maybe next year.” I was so downcast, but had a good attitude of appreciation, I can remember, AND THEN I STEPPED AROUND THE COUNTER THAT LEAD INTO THE KITCHEN! There they were—beautiful red and silver Rupp minibikes parked right next to each other!!! I could have just cried I was so happy! Daddy quickly hushed me so that we could then surprise my sister. We rode those bikes constantly and felt so cool! Gosh, what an amazing memory…

To this day my sister and I crack up at our memory of the year that we got Mom a SPLATTER SCREEN for Christmas! It was not her only gift, mind you, butttt WHAT were we thinking? Ha! Every time I see one I think of that.

Jolly Librarian: The worst gift-giving experience was one year I bought a box of expensive candy for a friend. That would not be a problem, but we celebrated at a restaurant first, and he spent most of the dinner talking about his new Atkins diet and how he was not eating any sugar. Ugh!

The worst gift I ever received was a bust of Aristotle or Plato.  (I forget which.) The gift itself was not the problem, but it was given to me by my (then) boyfriend during a trip to visit him in Washington, D. C. I had to spend the entire trip home lugging around a statue!

1 thought on “The Self-Improvement Chronicles: Looking a Gift Horse . . .

  1. First Valentine’s Gift: 18-inch action figure from Kill Bill: the heroine in blood-spattered yellow leather, along with a dozen roses, half yellow, half red. (He knew I was half-Texan.) I married the guy. What else could I do? Best gift ever!

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