Grandma's Tights and other "Gifts"

With ten children, one can only imagine what it must be like to shop for birthday and Christmas gifts. For someone who enjoys shopping, this may not seem like a daunting task, but for someone that loathes shopping it is just that. Mom hates to shop. Anytime we mention shopping to Mom we always get the same response, “Eww yuck! I hate shopping.”
Something that helped ease Mom’s dread of shopping was the dawning of the Internet. Years ago, our home phone and internet shared the same line. When Mom discovered online shopping, the phone lost its share. The rest of us could no longer get a hold of Mom. She spent hours on the Internet looking for bargains. She signed up for every “free” deal that came her way. She got what she paid for.
It was common for us children to receive some pretty unusual birthday presents, a lot of which were some of her internet finds. These included Mary Kay samples, clothes that were three sizes too small, free trinkets or gadgets that one would not possibly use, or anything else that came as part of a free trial offer.
If Mom didn’t find gifts on the Internet, then she would rummage through the cupboards or house trying to find something to re-gift. Every year at Christmastime, Mom waits for the neighbors to bring her something so she can start giving “her gifts” out to others. My nephew, Taylor, was given a “Captain Morgan” t-shirt from Mom for his sixteenth birthday. She got it on sale at a thrift store. Mom didn’t know Captain Morgan is an alcoholic drink. But the shirt only cost one dollar. The worst part though was that the shirt didn’t even match the fluorescent orange booty shorts that I gave Taylor. My oldest brother, Bob, received prenatal vitamins for his 40th birthday. Angela was re-gifted a book on her birthday that she had given Mom years before. It had even been signed to Mom by the author.
One year my sister, Amy, received an outfit for Christmas. She said she probably would not wear it. So Mom took it back for herself and was thrilled to have it. Amy didn’t mind at all. Amy’s husband however was shocked that Mom gave Amy a gift and then took it back for herself. Amy didn’t bat an eye. She knew that was just Mom. There were no hard feelings. That was how gifts went in our home.
There was the year that Mom made my favorite lemon Jell-O cake for my birthday. Only she didn’t have a lemon Jell-O packet or birthday candles for that matter. She used something she already had. Mom does that a lot. This time a cherry Jell -O packet served as a substitute for the lemon Jell-O. I ended up with an oozing blood red cake that tasted nothing like lemon. Mom had placed many different sizes and colors of our emergency preparedness candles on top. Some of them had been used many times. The cake had huge craters in it where the candles sat. Surrounding the craters were seas of multi-colored wax. One candle stood awkwardly in the middle. It was shaped in a spiral and was a puke green color. The 18 inch candle had broken in half and now looked like a pair of num-chucks, with the wick holding the two sides together. Mom had planted both ends in the cake-the wick between them. It looked like a dripping green arch floating on top of a sea of blood.
I opened my present and pulled out clothes that were way too small for me. I tried on the shirt. It exposed a good portion of my stomach. The pants didn’t get past my knees. I modeled the outfit for my family. Everyone, including me thought it was hilarious. Mom began to cry, until Dad pointed at the cake and said, “Seriously Connie. Look at that cake. You aren’t the one that should be crying right now.” We all laughed, including Mom.
 Mom and Dad surprised me and visited my apartment once while I was away at college. They brought dinner for my roommates and me. Afterward they showed us a religious video. Then came the big moment. I unwrapped my gift–a CD ROM cleaner. It was a cheap, little plastic box with a circular piece of foam the size of a CD inside. It had a little hand crank. It included a small spray bottle of cleaner. The idea was to spray the CD, place it in the box on top of the foam and crank the handle. I did not own a computer let alone any software CD’s. My roommates were eyeing the gift, when I heard Mom say that the only condition was that she and Dad could borrow it. I wondered why she hadn’t just bought two out of the dollar bin if she had wanted her own so badly. I told her that would be just fine and held it out for her to take back. My roommates thought it was a joke. I knew it was an Internet freebie.
When I turned twenty-one, I left to serve a mission for the LDS church in Catania, Italy. Dad sent me letters weekly and occasionally snuck in a much appreciated fifty dollar bill. He enclosed the money in a one page type-written letter that always consisted of the same sentence. “Don’t tell your Mother.” It was sent to me from his office and on his legal stationary. His letters, always in business format, had his full name and title typewritten at the bottom with his signature–appearing more like an official document rather than a personal letter to his daughter. That always made me smile.
It was expensive to send packages from our home in Utah overseas to Italy so I never expected to receive any. I was surprised one day when a package arrived for me during Christmas holidays and even more surprised that it was from Mom. A month previously, Mom had sent me a nice package filled with treats for my birthday. I certainly didn’t expect to receive another. I thought it was a miracle that I had even received the first. I noticed that the shipping had cost twenty some dollars and was shocked that she had spent that. It was not like her to pay the outrageous cost to send over seas what few items one could cram into a box weighing less than five pounds.
The tights and book (I'm holding the book, wish the pic. was better) 
I had two companions that lived with me at that time, and we all gathered to see what I had received. I opened the package curiously and was more than a little confused at its contents. Inside was a mass of brightly-colored polyester. We were all intrigued to say the least. As I pulled out the items, it became clear what they were–eight different colored pairs of thick tights in the most hideous colors I had ever seen. If I were going to attend an “80’s” rave party, I could easily be the envy of all in attendance. As I looked from the tights to my companion’s confused faces and back again it suddenly hit me where I had seen these tights before. These were no ordinary tights. These were my Grandmother's tights; my Grandmother who had just passed away months before. Mom had just cleaned out Grandma’s drawers and I was the lucky recipient.
Grandma was not a sweet-type Grandma that had cookies baking in the oven and smelled of lilacs. Instead she smelled of mentholatum, had a snack bowl filled with Cheetos, and language that told it like it was. Usually there were more than a few choice words in the telling. But that was just Grandma, and we all adored her and she us. Before Grandma passed away she told Mom what she wanted at her funeral. She said she only had two requests, to serve Coke which she loved, and "to keep it damn short.” So that’s what Mom did.
I wasn’t there when Grandma died. I was on my mission and missed her funeral. I held the tights that once belonged to the Grandma that I so loved. I smiled as I pictured her sitting up in heaven saying, “Oh hell, Connie. You spent twenty dollars to send that box filled with my old damn tights? Why didn’t you just send her the money?” 
Accompanying the hideous tights was another “special” gift. Apparently Grandmas’ drawers were not the only ones Mom had cleaned out. An old book of poems sat peeking out between a pair of olive green and a pair of burgundy tights. I recognized it as a book that had sat on a shelf collecting dust in my parent’s house for years. My companions sat staring, not knowing what to do or say. I burst out laughing at their frozen-in-horror expressions. I realized they had no idea that this was a “normal” gift. I quickly proceeded to tell them some stories. They didn’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for me.
I actually ended up wearing the nylons under my long skirts for warmth and was grateful to have them since it was freezing at the time. I offered some to my roommates but for some reason they refused. I decided to read the book of poems as well and ended up coming across twenty dollars that Mom had strategically placed between the pages. I smiled as I now knew why the book had been placed in the package to begin with. Mom needed a place to conceal the money from the “Sicilian mafia” that she was sure would steal my package of tights. I received other packages and money from friends and family but none made me smile so much as Grandma’s “old damn tights”.
I tried to explain how gifts go in my family to my then fiancé and now husband, Travis. No one can believe my stories are true. Most people think I’m exaggerating, until they witness them firsthand. Travis’ first experience was a case in point.
We were a month away from getting married, and had gone to a furniture outlet to find a bed. We found a bed that we loved for only $450.00. Later, Mom returned to the furniture store with me so I could ask her advice about the bed. As we looked at it and some other merchandise, we talked about the upcoming wedding. Mom mentioned how proud she was of me for staying under what she had budgeted for the wedding. I was glad to hear it. I knew it could not be easy to pay for a wedding especially since I was their fifth daughter to get married. Mom had weddings down to a science and could put on a beautiful wedding for less than two thousand dollars.
On my 24th birthday, Travis and I were at my parent’s house celebrating with my brother, Eric and his family since Eric’s birthday falls just two days before mine. Travis and the rest of the family watched me open my gift from Mom and Dad. My parents had given me some beautiful clothes that I needed for the wedding. Tucked underneath the clothing was a receipt. I opened it and could not believe my eyes. It was a receipt from the furniture outlet where we had been at earlier that week. The receipt read "mattress $450.00.” I was elated and stunned. They had never bought me such a nice and generous gift. But I figured they must have bought it since I was so under budget for the wedding. I kept repeating, “Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh! I can’t believe you bought the bed we want!” As is often the case in my family, everyone was talking and Mom could not hear me over the chatter. Finally she said, “Everyone shush! Kate, what did you say?”
 I again repeated excitedly how happy I was that they would buy us that bed. She replied, “No! No! No! We didn’t buy you the bed! That’s the receipt for the mattress and bed I decided to buy for Dad and I. I just wanted to show you the great deal we got on it.”
Travis was visibly shocked. He whispered to me, “Why in the world would she include that in your birthday box?”
I just shrugged. “I told you”.
Luckily that was not the end to my gift bag. There was also an advertisement for BBQ Wings in the bag. When I enquired as to why it was there, Mom responded, as if I had asked a dumb question, “Travis likes wings.”
"Is it a gift certificate?" I asked. 
"No." She replied.
"How about a coupon?" I said.
"Nope." She repeated.
Confused, I asked, "So it's just an advertisement with a picture of wings on it?"
“Well, yeah,” Mom said.
The confusion on my face almost matched the bewilderment on Travis’. “What did you want me to do with it? I asked her? “Should we frame it for our new place?”  
Mom just smiled and shrugged.
 Also in the bag, was a scrap piece of paper that read, “Don’t forget to give me the garage door opener.”
Travis asked what it was. I told him that I had borrowed their car and had accidentally taken the garage door opener with me. He said, “Why in the world is that note in there?”
I replied, “I don’t know. I guess that’s my Birthday card that goes along with all of this stuff.”
He just stood there in amazement. “Holy cow. I always thought you were kidding. This is ridiculous.”
I smiled sweetly at my soon-to-be husband. “Welcome to the family. At least I didn’t receive some more Harlequin Romance books.”
Travis’ eyes widened. “You’re kidding.”
“A few years ago,” I replied. “A little something else Mom cleaned out of Grandma’s house after she died. Apparently Mom has no idea what a Harlequin Romance novel is, but now thanks to her. I will have no surprises on our honeymoon.”
Needless to say that was the beginning of many birthdays that Travis now has the privilege of experiencing. I say privilege because it is just that. When we all gather, these are some of my fondest memories we review from our past. Dad smiles while Mom says over and over, “I did not do that! Did I do that?”
I wouldn’t trade any of these memories for what the world considers normal gifts. I had some of those birthdays, too, but they are much less memorable. Ironically the recollections of unusual gifts turned out to be the best gifts I received.

7 comments:

  1. Katy-you are an amazing writer! I so enjoyed all of your stories and can really relate to most of the stories. Keep it up! I am really impressed.

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  2. Found your blog through a story you wrote on KSL's website. I read this blog post and smiled so big! I think your Mom and my Mother in-law are long lost sisters. My mother in-law gave me fake rubber grapes that she'd found at the D.I. for my birthday one year. Her rationalization for the gift was that one time, a year before, I had told her about how I used to sneakily pull a grape off of a fake fruit display at my Grandma's house and chew on it. So she thought it'd be funny to give me fake rubber grapes for my Birthday (used fake rubber grapes mind you) along with a few coupons to Chili's Restaurant. She is also definitely not your average gift giver :) Lovin' your blog, thanks for the laughs! Especially your marathon story. Haha!

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  3. Oh my gosh!!! I love it! Do not give my mother any ideas! :) That is so great! Now to be my Mom exactly, you need to re-gift those back to your MIL next year for her birthday! Haha

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  4. Thanks you both for the kind words!!! I think some of the nicest people are those that take time to pass on compliments to someone else. Thank you.

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  5. Hahaha!! Thank you for making me smile once again!! I love reading your blog. It makes me feel normal!

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  6. Hahaha!! Thanks for making me laugh!! I love reading your blog, it helps me feel normal!!

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  7. My husband's grandma gave gifts like that. Dollar bin stuff. Junk she saw on QVC. One year she gave all four boys "dickie" turtlenecks. We have laughed about these gifts for decades now. And I totally agree...it's a great part of the family culture and provides some of the best memories and stories ever! So proud of you for wearing those tights! :) I love your blog!

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