I think one of the challenges old badgers like me face at Christmas-time and other gift-giving occasions has to do with the shifts of time and age. In other words, what we nearly-educated folk used to call “the generation gap.” I’m guessing my parents thought the gap was mighty huge when we kids started rolling cigarette packs up in the sleeves of our tee shirts, puttin’ stick-em instead of slick-em on our hair and wearing tenney shoes even when we weren’t going anywhere near a tennis court. I can’t imagine the wrath and fury of harsh looks that swiveled their way toward that first teenager who wore blue jeans to church.
Actually, I can imagine it; I went to church bare-footed a couple of times just to see what people would do. I was very disappointed, actually. My revolution never got off the ground and a church elder whose wisdom and gentleness far out-matched my youthful rebellion had me back on the straight and narrow faster than you can say “Power to the people.” Back to the generation gap…
I used to wonder, ever so briefly, what it was like for folks raised on “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me” and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” when I’d drive by with my 8-track blasting out “Born to Be Wild” or “Born on the Bayou” from my 20-watt stereo speakers cheerfully bouncing on the rear deck of my 1967 Opel Kadette. I think I got a pretty good idea of what that was like for the old folks in Browns Grove, Kentucky, the first time I went to the grocery store in Gower, Missouri back in the late Eighties and heard a couple of kids boom-boxing the whole cotton-picking parking lot with some rancid rap CD. It’s hard for me to believe that CCR or Three Dog Night or even Steppenwolf could have affected my dad the way that putresance affected me but I suspect the culture shock was pretty close on both seismic registers.
Since both of my parents grew up in the direst, deepest and darkest parts of the Depression, they believed that store-bought socks and underwear were the height of blue-collar luxury. And so, that was a key part of every Christmas when I was growing up. I said “key part” not “highlight.” Being the spoiled little brat that I was, I kind of thought that socks and underwear ought to be pretty much a given rather than be given on such a special occasion, particularly in a family that bought a brand new automobile every three or four years. You can imagine how spoiled my kids were by the time they reached middle-school age.
Some sixty years after most people believed the Depression had ended, two of my kids were discussing presents on Christmas Eve out at my parents’ house in Coldwater, which is only a few miles from Browns Grove.
“What do you think we’ll get from Granny and Pappaw?” the eighth-grader asked the sixth-grader. The younger one replied without any hesitation and with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm, “Probably socks and underwear.”
What neither of them knew at the time and I didn’t know until later was that Granny overheard their conversation. None of the six kids ever got the socks and underwear she had already purchased for them. She returned everything to the store and never brought any of them another Christmas present again. Never whispered a word of why to any of them.
Funny thing is, those same two boys were talking about the incident about twenty years later. The younger one said, “You know, ‘socks and underwear’ sound like good presents to me now.” “Yep,” the older one agreed, “sure do.” But not those tidy-whiteys, I guess.
At any gift-giving time, I think it’s good for the givers to try and understand the wants and wishes of the giftees and to at least consider the possibility that times and tastes might have changed a bit over the past two or three generations. Heck, you might even just come right out and ask, “What sort of inexpensive and useful gift would you like to have?” On second thought, you might just delete the adjectives and come up with a better question.
It’s also good for the getters to try to consider the intent and perspective of the givers. Regardless of which side of the generation gap we happen to find ourselves on, a bit of mutual effort can help us all at least stay within hollering distance.