The holiday season has a way of bringing up questions of “enough”-ness.
Are there enough parcels under the tree to delight my child? Have I found something special enough for my spouse … my parents … my friends … my boss … my child’s teachers … ?
I didn’t even realize how my thoughts had been spiraling around these questions until I’m running up Fifth Street with Leo, past my childhood home, past my school bus stop, past the park where I used to ice skate, past my past, really, and soon I’m passing by Miss Johnson’s house, or what I think is Miss Johnson’s house, because I recall going there only once or twice with my family when I was very young, and now I can’t remember whether hers is the one with the roof that shoots up like a wedge of pie or the one folded over like the wing of an origami bird, but I know I am on her block, reining in my dog who is sniffing at the trunk of her tree, or maybe her neighbor’s.
That’s when I remember Miss Johnson’s spoon.
Her spoon arrived in what memory paints as a blizzard of gift giving, wedding gifts wrapped in white paper piling up like snowbanks in my parents’ living room, the unwrapped boxes later lining the hall of my first apartment. Even now when I’m wrapping presents or unpacking moving boxes, that sweet dusty scent of cardboard sometimes draws my mind back nearly three decades to glimpse a time when it seemed everyone I knew was celebrating my new life that wouldn’t last.
The boxes contained glassware and stoneware and flatware and casseroles and towels and small appliances and photo frames. And Miss Johnson’s spoon. An 18/8 stainless steel teaspoon in our negotiated registry pattern. A simple spoon. An extra among the five-piece place settings others had given us.
At the time, its modesty amid the wedding largesse struck me and caused me to pause to think about this sweet lady I hardly knew, beyond her broad smile and kind spirit, a senior faculty member who had become a mentor to my professor-father in the college department he entered, barely out of college himself.
When my ex and I divided our belongings, I wondered whether my collection of silverware included Miss Johnson’s spoon. I told myself it must.
Did it matter? She is not the spoon. And spoon or not, I surely would have remembered her with as much fondness today as I trotted past what might once have been her house. Just as I glimpsed across the same street at the farmhouse-style home of Miss Wisnaes and recalled the ancient lady who sat in the back seat with my baby brother and me on Sunday mornings when my father drove us all to church. She gave me the idea of “fairy bumps”: a way to describe the way a brittle-cold car bounces while idling at a stop sign on a crystalline winter day.
Heading toward home, thinking about gifts and gifting, an image floats into my mind: the two-inch-high greeting card cut in the shape of a Christmas tree that a friend, a young man twenty-two years ago, signed “Love, Jon,” a gift it would take me months to recognize but one that would bless my life beyond what I ever imagined, twenty years married this month.
When it comes to gifting, what is “enough” anyway? There is nothing—no thing—we can give each other to truly express our gratitude, our appreciation, our love, our hope, our joy.
But every Christmas, every anniversary and birthday and every other holiday, we shop and we fret, making dear attempts to share what’s in our hearts with those we love.
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