Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Christmas Shopping for That Hard-to-Gift Grandmother

This might be the only picture I have of me with my dad and his mother, my grandmother.   They're both gone.   I have no idea what happened to the arm on the right that is photo bombing this picture.

Let's kick off the holiday season with this Christmas story. And it involves Grandma, a woman an you couldn't Christmas shop for. Because if you asked her what she wanted, she'd wave you off immediately.

"I don't need nothing."

And she really didn't. But then you would ask her what she wanted.

"I don't want nothing."

It was the same drill year after year. You would think that my relatives would learn their lesson. They never did. And so, one Christmas after another, they fell over backwards trying to buy her a present. And then they would get indignant when she didn't like it. I used to hold my breath every year when the inevitable gift exchange would happen and somebody would dumbly bestow her with some wrapped package.

"What the hell is this?"

A Christmas present for you, of course.

"I don't need nothing. I don't want nothing."

So we heard.

And then we got to watch her open a gift from a family member that might as well have been picked out of an office grab bag. Because they always seemed to be selected without a single thought that this was a woman who virtually never left her house past her front porch or her backyard, except for her Thursday morning trips to the A and P and her monthly visit to her doctor in a Bronx neighborhood she called "Jew Town."  Yeah, political correctness was an undefined phrase back then.

After opening a box, she'd always look up quizzically.

"What the hell is this?"

Very fancy gloves for when you go out to some place nice.

She waved them off as if they were mental patients. And she was right. In all the years I knew her, I never remember her ever once going to some place nice. I never remember seeing her in a restaurant. The fanciest it ever got for her was either a wedding or a funeral.

It got worse. The next year, she opened a small box to reveal a very exquisite watch.

"What the hell is this?"

It was explained this was a wrist watch that she could wear out. For instance, she could check the time when she was waiting for the bus.

Huh? Grandma waved them off. I almost did the same. For this simple woman, a gift was purchased as if she was a high-powered commuter on "Mad Men" headed for her job at a major New York advertising agency.

The gloves and the watch were tossed back as was pretty much everything else she ever got for Christmas.

One year, even one of my own Christmas presents indirectly ticked her off. I had been given a little reel-to-reel tape recorder which made me the most annoying guest at that holiday season's family gathering. When I was done running around and interviewing the family about nothing, my mom decided we should be proactive and make a tape to send out to whichever relative couldn't make it to our house that year. Eventually, the microphone was put in front of Grandma.

"What the hell is this?"

We explained that she should talk into it and say hello. She easily complied.



"This is stupid. I don't hear anything back."


The one year I decided to join the Grandma Christmas Gift fiasco, I thought I had hit on a great idea. I had gotten tired of looking at the little kitty cat cookie jar she kept in the pantry, always chock full of chocolate chip cookies. It had been around pretty much since Roosevelt beat Alf Landon. At the time, the Pillsbury Doughboy was making regular first Poppin' Fresh appearances on television and I had found a cookie jar version in a store. As perfect as it was, I still held my breath as she opened the package.

"Now THIS is something I can use."

And she did for the rest of her life. The kitty cat was retired to another shelf. I had scored a big, big win.

After she died, I know one of my cousins claimed the kitty cat cookie jar. But I immediately pulled in the Pillsbury Doughboy. And it is the one memento I have of my grandmother.

And it sits proudly in my Los Angeles kitchen.
Always chock full of chocolate chip cookies.

Of course, wherever she is, my grandmother is probably wondering.   

"How the hell did that cookie jar wind up in California?"

Dinner last night:  French dip panini at the Arclight Cafe.

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