by Esmerelda Weatherwax (Dec. 2006)
Now Christmas is a time for giving. And it is more blessed to give than to receive. So it may be less than commendable for me to complain about "My worst presents" which all, or nearly all, came from the same aunt. But in the spirit of Christmas Miserable I’m going to. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
The first present I can remember her giving me was when I was about 6 years old and she gave me a sewing box. It was full to the brim with everything I could possibly need, and it played the Blue Danube waltz. 45 years later it plays the Blue Danube, but more haltingly than it did. I still sew enthusiastically although the needles and scissors wore out or were lost long ago. These days I keep the box to demonstrate to the toddlers at church the story of the pearl of great price. When I open it up inside are pearl headed pins, necklaces, earrings and a shell lined with Mother of pearl. But after that Christmas it was downhill all the way.
One year she told my mother she would buy me an LP record, or album as they were later called. This was gold to a 15 year old in 1970. I gave a list of favourite bands, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Jethro Tull, hesitating to ask for a specific record in case I was being greedy. On Christmas morning I eagerly opened - Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. An economy compilation from Woolworths which, to add insult to injury, contained a track to which our sadistic gym mistress had devised an embarrassing "movement to music" (you couldn’t call it dance) routine for us to perform. I tried to be grateful and remember my manners.
Aunt Doris always took an interest in her niece's and nephew's lives and never forgot a birthday, but her taste was not always ours. One year she bought me a device for thawing a frozen chicken. This was a square orange plastic bowl with a white plastic basket in which to drain said chicken, and a lid to keep the cats off. Later, when I had a cat with a taste for frozen meat, it did actually prove useful.
In later life she took to putting odd presents in boxes scrounged at the OAP club for ease of wrapping. One’s anticipation had to be contained. A Royal Doulton box no longer contained a crystal jug but a plastic kitchen tool. Turn it one way it was a hinged salad server. Turn it the other way and it was a stand to hold the salad bowl.
Another year bottles of her home made paint stripper wine intended for the men were concealed in shoe boxes, and my cousins and I all received plastic wicker baskets with flowers stuck in the middle, off centre. Mine was lavender with an orange flower. We could not put a pot plant in them as water ran through the holes. Neither could they be used for anything hot. I took mine to work to hold crisps at the office party. My cousin’s wife threw hers away. Her sister-in-law saw another in the charity shop and bought it so that Maureen had a pair. Or a replacement.
Then there was the saga of the touch lamp. Touch the brass effect rim holding the fake oil shade and it got brighter, and brighter again. Except that the two pin plug did not fit any socket in our house and was of a type that has been illegal in the UK for 40 years. I took it to Trading Standards who were flabbergasted and wanted to know where it had been purchased. I confided this to my cousin who rang me back the following week.
"Aunt Doris bought it in the town market" she said, "She has tackled the bloke on the stall and if she brings it back he will give her a refund." I phoned trading standards and as this market was out of their area they were glad to get rid of it. My cousin took the lamp back. Two weeks later I visited my Aunt’s and was handed a large box, which I think had once held a gross of toilet rolls. Inside was a lamp even more outrageus than the first. The shade was a dome made up of dozens of plastic flowers each on a wire stem which trembled as anyone passed.
Months passed and I decided that it was now safe to dispose of it. I never liked the idea of giving her presents to the charity shop so I wanted to try to do something more personal with it. I decided to donate it as a raffle prize at church. Eventually it was the only prize left. The next two winners donated it back. By this time I was hiding behind a screen helpless with laughter. The third winner heard a lady say "It’s not that bad, I rather like it" so she gave it to her.
Aunt Doris’s penultimate effort, given to me 2 weeks after her death one December was almost her best. I unwrapped a box on which was printed the words "Ultimate Glenn Miller CD collection". This is nothing like my taste, but undoubted good quality and generous. Her last gift to me had to be treated with respect. I decided to give it to an elderly lady I knew, a former land army girl who had known members of the Glenn Miller band during the war, and invite her to play it in the common room of her nursing home. Before I handed it over I noticed that the lid of the box was not quite straight. With a feeling of revelation dawning I removed the tape seal. Inside the box was a pair of Perspex salt and pepper pots, shaped like sputniks.
Then two days before Christmas I got a phone call from the hospital where Aunt Doris had been treated. I had won third prize in the ward Christmas raffle. My prize was a stuffed dinosaur with the most gorgeous funny expression. My cousin thought I had been hard done by, not being quick enough to have my pick of the wine and chocolates but Dino and I get on fine.
He’s just my kind of Christmas present.
A mighty herbivore of the Geraniaceous Period prowls the Pelargonium Forest.