In late fall of 1990 my father was laid off from his electrical company. He was part of a union so we all assumed he'd get a job immediately but that didn't happen. By Thanksgiving, things were starting to get uncomfortable. We had the entire family over, but it was a stilted feeling. We thought about penny pinching and terrible thoughts about moving (ie losing the house), getting a smaller car, cutting out the extras.
Holidays are a big time around our house. We go all out -big fancy parties, house entirely decorated, baking galore, presents for everyone - from the newspaper boy to the housecleaner, mailman, hair salon, you name it. My parents are always very generous to everyone who provided them service throughout the year.
In 1990 my mother quietly decided that we were going to be low key. She made it into a game to see how far we could go without spending money. Our parties - we still had them, but they were meatloaf and cupcakes rather than steaks and petit fours. The immediate family decided that we would not spend more than $20 per person and each person was assigned one other person. I got my mother.
She made up for the lack of extravagance by more family time. We played games, had cocoa and cider, caroled in the neighborhood, volunteered at the local food shelter and delivered meals, and helped with a neighborhood coat drive.
Caroling was really fun. It was cold and our voices would get really hoarse - the best recipe for hot mulled cider. We weren't very good, but everyone stood patiently while we serenaded them.
Twenty dollars wasn't much to spend on my mother. I searched and searched for the perfect present. With a monetary limit and only one present to give, it had to be killer. I rejected all sorts of things and it was very interesting how little value the "crappy" stuff has when it's not important. Normally I would have bought 10 things by this time.
I searched the malls, stores, everywhere. I couldn't find it. I thought it would come with a shining halo around it once I found it but I couldn't find it. I was getting a bit worried because it was getting close. I asked everyone if they had ideas. A hat, some piano music, a book, slippers.
I decided to stop at the retirement home's holiday boutique as a last stop. I was walking down the little tables of crochet covered tissue boxes, appliqued aprons, knitted baby clothes. Nothing here for my elegant mother.
Suddenly I saw it. Two hair combs, in blue stones in the shape of dainty butterflies and flowers entertwined. They were very beautiful. Bright aqua, light blue the color of sky and faint blue white stones. They were very elegant, delicate and would look shockingly beautiful against her black hair and pale skin. They were $25, a bit over, and I never told anyone I'd gone over but they were perfect for her.
I wrapped them in a velvet box I had saved from a previous gift session and wrapped them in tissue paper with a silvery blue bow on top.
The gifts that year were sparse, but the love was generous. I can't recall what great big gifts I had in previous years, presents piled high, but this year sticks out in my memory as one of my fondest.