Yesterday was Christmas Shopping Day at our house—principally for Bill. We ordered the red-wrapped two- and three-pound boxes of dark chocolate Nuts & Chews he’s sent to family since Mrs. See first shmooshed them out. All over the country, Park children and grandchildren expect this, delight in it. And of course Mrs. See sends over a big box of Nuts and Chews to our house. I do not complain.
My holiday list from Harry-and-David was also on our worktable. Last year I seem to have sent many boxes of Royal Riviera Christmas pears. I was surprised—it’s odd I should have done such a thing because whenever I’ve received such fruit on an Occasion, I’m afraid I’ve thought, “Whoa, this person’s too busy to do some considerate giving.” Just send money and the fruit/chocolates/plants arrive, a no-brainer. Fruit is always welcome, of course, and there are times in our lives when the See’s and Harry-and-Davids of this world are godsends.
After all, The thought’s the thing. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
But there’s another reason I pushed away my 2021 Harry-and-David list.
For years now, come The Holidays, I’ve wrestled with a problem: What to do about the recalcitrant family members?
Recalcitrant = Don’t thank us for their gift…
Actually, that’s Recalcitrance, Part Two. Part One is The Recalcitrants have never sent a holiday gift our way. Never even a card. We are royally ignored.
Has it to do with our being old? (“They’re so dottery, they won’t notice…”)
But being close family (I’m not talking second cousins twice removed, I’m talking very close kin), according to tradition—according to how my mother raised me—it’s obligatory we remember them at Christmas/Hanukkah. Even though they’re at a distance. That’s because from the time I learned to bake cookies, my mother had me bake and wrap and mail off holiday gifts to distant family. I took pleasure and pride in my gifts. Of course I was always thanked. And delighted in the gifts I received in return.
Mulling over the situation—and it’s annoying how much it has annoyed me–now and again I’d reflect upon the conversation I had years ago with Great Aunt Florence. We were talking about this very subject—holiday gifts and those who didn’t respond—apparently there was a Recalcitrant in her branch of the family, too. Born in 1898, a stickler for manners, Great Aunt Florence pursed her mouth, proclaimed, “When I’m not thanked for a present, I don’t send another. That’s it.” I warmed to the idea. My mother was a Manners Stickler too.
Okay, okay. Last thing I want to do is be petty about gift giving. About not saying sincerely, “Here I am. I love you. I hope you have a beautiful Christmas. Hanukkah. Sugarplum’s Naming Day…”
But I don’t want to be foolish any longer, either. I mean, if you don’t earn regard, nobody grants it. Right? Right.
Happily, to resolve this annoyance, I’ve come up with a brilliant solution.
From the first Christmas dear son-in-law Jim Whelan joined our family, from his parents in Chicago we received contributions to Habitat for Humanity. I thought it a marvelous custom, and a few years ago I followed suit—sent distant family members cards noting a contribution to Habitat in their honor. In those days you could give a beehive, a hen and rooster, a goat…
Somewhere, thanks to them, bees were energetically making honey for hungry families. Kith and kin seem not to have noticed. I swallowed my anger.
But this year it won’t matter if we have a response. This year there is such need in the world. My Inbox is clogged with pleas for contributions to help Ukraine…feed human beings…save elephants…wolves…shorelines…our democracy… (Bill and I were talking about this and he mentioned that when we were first married, of mail forwarded from my mother’s house, he counted FORTY charities. Jacque Cousteau still writes to Ma. So you can see contributing to causes is in my DNA.)
Thus this Christmas/Hanukkah I’m going to give smarter: match the charity to the person. The political nut. The tree hugger. The cloud chaser. The artist. The champion of social justice…
And I won’t care whether we hear back or not. We will have done some good…a very little, but some…will feel happy in the doing. That will be thanks aplenty.
And they are, after all, kith and kin.
Recalcitrance be damned!
I’ll fret about manners come less troubled times.