The holidays have always been a special time for my family. My parents lavished each other and their three kids with love in the form of presents. As I’ve gotten older and my world view has shifted I’ve come to see the exchange of gifts as an indirect way of expressing love. My preference is to show love by telling someone about how I feel and in the case of this year by being physically present, or should I say a physical present? My family has been patient with me on this score. It helps that in the past four years when we were not together for the holiday I couldn’t see their eyes rolling every time I made some pithy and probably too loud statement about the whole Christmas-and-American-Commercialism-Gift-Giving thing. This year, my feelings on the subject have moderated…and no, it’s not because I already know I’m getting some really neat stuff!

I get that people express love the way they can and choose to. For years I scoffed at presents as inferior or worse, immature, expressions of love. Why transfer emotions to a sweater made in a sweatshop when I can say “Merry Christmas. I love you”? As I reflect on my life, most of my favorite gifts were not physical, at all.

My grandfather told stories about his World War II experiences while rocking in his aluminum chair on the back porch overlooking an orange grove. I listened intently even when he repeated himself. Years ago he’d ship us oranges picked from that grove with his huge, blue collar hands. I remember thinking how powerful they were. As he grew older and more frail, I saw his gentleness come through. He didn’t try to show it to me, but I could see it. His stories and those oranges were tremendous gifts.

My grandmother loved us with her Italian sauce and meatballs every time we visited. For my brother, she made lasagna and for my mother, eggplant parmesan. When she visited us in New Jersey she’d give back rubs working out the tension I held between my shoulder blades. She played 500 Rummy with us for hours until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. She still calls me “Doll,” and asks about every aspect of my life when we talk. She’s a lovely woman.

My brother’s face always lit up on Christmas morning – still does. He was the first one up eeeeeeeevery year, waking me by jumping on my bed full force. I never really understood him when we were kids. He was stoic and his Christmas persona seemed out of character mainly because I didn’t know people are multidimensional. I had a partial view of him. Today I see as clear as a December night how openly he lavishes love on his family at Christmas. I know when we all descend upon his house this year it’ll be decked out for celebration, the kids having been revved up to expect a fun time with Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Michele and Uncle David. He’s opening his house, his family’s rituals and his heart to us all. A priceless present indeed.

My sister has a soft hand and eyes so big they hide nothing. Believe me, when fury and scorn are in them Paul Bunyan couldn’t stare them down! Possessing an unusual logic and practicality she cuts to the chase, helping the world communicate and relate better. Maybe it’s the New Jersey upbringing. I don’t know. What I do know is she puts her whole heart into everything, be it work, teaching color guard moves to high schoolers, making sushi with her husband or helping our mother get around when rheumatoid arthritis decides to level her for a day or a week. 

My parents were incredibly selfless. I remain humbled that they paid for our educations and never once complained about the financial strain of it. They never asked us anything. When my mother visited recently we talked in the kitchen the way we used to when I lived at home, except this time it was my kitchen, our roles reversed with me leaning against the counter cutting up vegetables, then lingering and chatting for an hour after that. Her love hangs on my walls in the form of needlepoint. Long after she’s gone I’ll have her cloth and thread gems, the ones she created for hours until they were ready for framing, the final stitch tucked securely behind the ones before. My favorite is of a hummingbird and a flower. She knows I think they’re amazing.

It turns out my father is as gentle as his father was. I didn’t know my grandfather well but I could see he was a gentle soul. He wasn’t going to light the world on fire, summit a mountaintop or lead a company out of bankruptcy. He had quiet way about him. My father has that way, too. I wonder if it comes out when he consults with the muckitymucks of the big pharmaceutical companies. Heart strength in men is more powerful than intellect, so imagine the power of a man with both. Today, while he struggles with how to retire, he is learning to connect with people more deeply. He’s doing a fine job, in my opinion, giving perhaps his best gifts ever.

Each person in my family shares the interior of his or her heart differently. My job isn’t to tell them how to do it. My job is to eliminate the barriers within me to seeing and receiving it. I’ll continue to work on that. My gift to them all this year will be my physical presence and a poetry reading. It’s unusual and I don’t think they quite know what to make of it. But, I’ve come to understand another thing about showing love…sometimes you just gotta do it the way you gotta do it! Happy Holidays Everyone.

“Can’t Buy Me Love” is a love story by David Facer, 
Copyright © 2002, David C Facer, Jr., All rights reserved.

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