How old are children when they begin to focus on the giving aspect of the holidays? It happens pretty early, in my experience. There’s a wonderful story in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN in which one of the sons, no more than 7 or 8, wriggles with pent-up excitement as his parents, brothers and sisters open up his gifts — tacky ashtrays for a group of nonsmokers. The young person in my life was about the same age, I think, when he started to care as much about what he gave as what he got.
When I was 8, I decided that nothing would do for my sister but the new Sonny and Cher album. (I was 8!) (Yes, I said “new.” And “album.”) But albums cost between three and four dollars then, a sum far outside my means.I told my father of my dilemma, and he decided to use it as an object lesson in gambling. He would give me three dollars, he said, if I could beat him at something he called the “No” Game. He would ask me a series of questions and, no matter what he asked, I must reply no, every time, no exceptions. Did I understand the rules?
I looked him straight in the eye and said: “No.”
A few days later, I went to Korvette’s, a discount department store that vanished long ago, but I think I could still draw a diagram of its floors, where the records were in relationship to the books and the pet section, which was filled with murky fish and turtle tanks. I bought the album, the one with “I Got You, Babe” on it. Looking back, I doubt it truly thrilled my sister, who had unusually good musical taste for an 11-year-old, but she faked it pretty well.
What’s the best gift you ever gave? What’s the best gift you ever got? And have you ever had to fake it?
Oh — and Happy Holidays. (I’m not politically correct, I just happen to celebrate more than one.)