Don’t Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth

Whoever came up with that clever proverb to not look a gift horse in the mouth, obviously did not receive the same caliber of gifts that I have been so gosh-darn-lucky to receive. I have been so –ahem–grateful for these gifts that I tearily sent off some of the givers and in one case, sold the horse (see Exhibit A gift). This may come off as shallow and callow, but some gifts clearly state where you stand in a relationship.

Exhibit A: The Mixed-Message Gift With Psychological Implications That I Don’t Want To Delve. 1995 New Year’s. I made dinner for the guy I was kinda-sorta going out with. He arrived with a dozen pink roses and a gift box. We were no where near a rose stage in our relationship and definitely no where near what was in the box: a green and red plaid long flannel nightgown with a peter-pan collar adorned with a bow and long-sleeves with frills at the wrist. Hm. He smiled proudly and announced, “Yeah, I got my mom and my sister the same thing!” Well, then. I quickly made the resolution to move on.

Exhibit B: The Gift So Frightening You Throw It Back Into The Mailbox. Valentine’s Day, 1995. My boyfriend (Not Exhibit A) had to work all day and decided to surprise me by leaving my gift in my mailbox. He succeeded when I found the flaming-red haired troll doll dressed as Satan wearing a pennant proclaiming, “You’re my little devil!” Shocked to learn that I didn’t like trolls, he said,”But you told my grandma that you liked her trolls!” I reminded him that his grandma, who recently suffered from a stroke and was easily upset, asked me point-blank if I liked her trolls (they, naked with their maniacal gaze and hair, lined every flat surface in her house), what choice did I have? The troll wasn’t his death-knell, but his capacity for believing things about me that ran contrary to how I actually was, was.

Exhibit C: The I Must Really Want To Get Dumped Gift. Summer 1997. My boyfriend (Not Exhibit A or B) and I were out of school for the summer: he in Washington working at a national park, me in California. I sent him home-baked cookie in care packages every week. I made him a frame with an antique fishing lure on it because he was an ichthyology major and loved the outdoors. He loved these packages and told me so on the post cards he sent. Then one night he called after visiting Portland where he found some really cool stuff and told me I should expect a package. I would be lying if I didn’t say I eagerly awaited this package; it would be a feast after the slim diet of postcards. It finally arrived and I tore open the small brown box. On the top, blinding me with their brightness, lay large fluorescent green, pink, yellow and orange paper clips, each bore Smokey the Bear’s face and admonished me to “Please Help Smokey Stop Forest Fires”. Cute! I thought. I love paper clips. I dug deeper into the box and found four bag clips, each fluorescent green, pink, yellow, and orange, and again I looked at Smokey; Smokey looked at me. The box was near empty. Again, I dug and came up with four pencils that perfectly matched my paper clips and bag clips. I frowned at Smokey. My new Smokey office supplies didn’t come from Portland, they came for free at the park service office.

But Smokey wasn’t the end of the story. There was also a pair of socks. Ankle socks bearing the Coca-Cola emblem. My frown deepened; I didn’t drink soda. None of this made sense. Later that evening I asked him about the socks, did he get them in Portland? Oh, no, he got them at Safeway! So, he walked around pushing his cart and saw the socks, thought of me, and then put them in with his other items? Oh, no, that’s not what happened! Well, what happened? He was walking around, pushing his cart, and the socks jumped in! The socks spontaneously jumped off the shelf into his cart and he decided that he would send them to me? Yes, that’s what happened! Do I like them? I reflected on the time I spent finding good cookie recipes, baking cookies, carefully selecting the materials for the gifts I made him, and the fact that I meant so much to him that he could not seem to spare a couple of brain cells to come up with a minimally thoughtful gift that in some way reflected that he knew who I was as a person.

Exhibit D: The Perfect Gift. March 1998. Steve and I hadn’t been going out for too long when the supermarkets began gearing up for the Easter holiday with rows of Cadbury chocolate mini-eggs. I don’t remember saying anything about my love for those candy-coated confections, but one day when I came home from school, on my porch was a large jar filled to the brim with them with a nice note. Later on he got me a small bust of Thomas Jefferson (a favorite president). Today, fourteen years later, he still brings me gifts, because for once I did not have to look a gift horse in the mouth, and married the giver instead.


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