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Thu, June 27

Column: The best gifts don't cost the most

In early 1976, my wife and I bought a house in a nice area. We had our first son later that year and our second son two years later. My wife's mother also lived with us. Like a lot of young people, we were in debt and as a result we had five jobs between us.

Working on the Long Beach Police Department, I had two part-time jobs and my wife, Judi, also had two part-time jobs. Even with all of the jobs, money was tight. In 1979, with two young boys, the bulk of our Christmas budget was centered on them. Judi and I each bought each other presents, but neither of us can remember what they were. The exception is the gift I left in Judi's stocking.

I purchased something from the Fingerhut catalog in October of that year. They sent me a new catalog with a certificate that stated that I was eligible for a free gift since I had spent more than $25. I could pick one of 10 items. None appealed to me. There was an opal ring that looked attractive to me and I thought Judi might like it. I sent my choice back and it arrived a week before Christmas. It came without a gift box. I was able to find an elegant looking one at one of the jewelers in Long Beach. With the ring in that box, it looked like an appropriate gift for the mother of my children. I put it in her Christmas stocking.

At the end of a long and noisy Christmas day, my wife was saying what a good Christmas it had been. I saw her, earlier in the day, going through her stocking. I thought that she had found the ring and realized that it was just a small bonus gift that we often relegated to each other's stockings. But she wasn't wearing it, nor had she even mentioned it. I asked if she had gotten everything out of her sock. She said she had, but I could still see the outline of the jewelry box in the toe. I asked her to check again. Judi snaked her hand down to the bottom and retrieved the box. When she opened it, she looked at the ring and gasped.

As she put in on her finger, she looked at me and said, "Oh, it's beautiful, I hope you didn't spend too much money on it." I felt trapped. Judi was so excited about the ring, that I didn't feel I could confess that it was gratis. "No, it wasn't much," I reluctantly responded. She wore that ring quite often. About six months later, Judi was admiring it one day and told me, "I just love this ring, but you know sometimes it turns my finger black." At that point, I had to confess. We both had a good laugh. Judi kept and wore that ring for many years. The most memorable gifts, quite often, aren't the most expensive.

About this same time, I was working the afternoon shift that started at 4:30 p.m. and ended at 2:30 a.m. Lacking seniority, I was usually working Christmas eve, Christmas night or both. This was inconvenient since my boys were receiving many gifts labeled, "Some assembly required." The first time this happened, Judi told me where she had hidden the presents that I should put together when I got home from work. I dreaded coming home at 3 a.m. and having to start putting together tricycles and toy trains for a couple of hours and then, being awakened, after sleeping an hour or so, by the pounding feet and excited yells of two boys finding the presents Santa had left.

As luck would have it, my sister-in-law, Debby and her husband, Steve, were spending the night. Steve, who is Jewish, and like many American Jews, celebrated Christmas, took pity on me. When I arrived home early Christmas morning, Steve had completed all of the required assembling, and placed the presents around the tree. I can't begin to express what that meant to me. Sometimes the most appreciated gifts are those one gives of one's time and effort.

About a year before they got married, our youngest son, Matt, brought his fiancee Jackie to our house so we could all get to know each other better. While she was there, Jackie looked through all of our photo albums. She asked if she could take several photos of Matt and his brother, Richard, when they were young, so she could make copies. Of course we agreed. One of the pictures was a shot of Rich and Matt, in their Doctor Dentons, standing on plastic risers in our old kitchen. The photo is from the rear and it showed our two tow-headed sons, placing cookie dough on a cookie sheet from a huge bowl on the counter.

At Christmas that year, Jackie presented us with a beautiful oil painting one of her friends painted of that photograph. It was such a thoughtful present. We wouldn't trade it for all of the paintings in the Louvre. More often than not, in giving, it really is the thought that counts.

Please have the happiest Christmas season ever. And the best New Year.


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