You’ve heard the expression, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” haven’t you? A horse’s teeth wear down over its lifetime, so examining a horse’s teeth is one way to evaluate whether the horse is young or old. In other words, the expression arose to admonish people not to evaluate gifts based on how much they cost.
On the Today Show this morning, the cast was asking what the worst gift you received is.
I’ve mentioned here before that one of the earliest memories I have of my grandmother is her telling me in her kitchen that it’s not the gift, it’s the thought that counts. Since I was 4 or 5 years old at the time, I thought my grandmother was nuts. At that age, my parents, my grandparents, and any of my numerous aunts and uncles could easily afford to get me lots of things I wanted but couldn’t get for myself on my allowance which I believe was a quarter a week.
As an adult, of course I realize my grandmother was right, just not for a kid of kindergarten, or pre-k age. Maybe I value the thought so much because there are still people who could buy me something I can’t afford for myself, but I don’t know anyone with that much money, so it isn’t going to happen.
The Today Show question caused me to recall two gifts I thought at the time were terrible. Each actually turned out to be among the most useful things I’ve ever received. My father’s older sister and her husband, my Aunt Catherine and Uncle Charlie were childless, and they were very generous at Christmas to me and my sister. They were, for example, responsible for most of the electric trains I had when I was a kid. One year, and one gift, stands out in my mind. I think they gave me something else too, but they once gave me three or four wooden clothes hangers. They were good hangers, the curved kind where the pants hangers unhook at one end, so you put your pants on them, closed the hanger and the pants wouldn’t slip off.
I have to think they got me something else too, but I don’t remember. I do remember how disappointed I was and at my advanced age, I hope I didn’t show it, but I’d bet I did. Obviously, as a kid, I wanted toys or money. The thing is, my aunt and uncle passed away many years ago, but I still have those hangers. I’ve bought and paid for more of them too, and they still hold clothes in my closet every day.
Second disappointing present came from the other side of the family. I was 17 at the time, so I hope I was better able to conceal my disappointment. My mother’s sister, my Aunt Mary, came to the party my parents held to celebrate my graduation from high school. She gave me a leather Dopp shaving kit. It could hold all my toiletries for when I traveled. At 17, I was more sophisticated than when I was 12. I didn’t want toys or money. I just wanted money. I’m not going to tell you that I still have it, but in college, in the Army and in my travels through adulthood, I used it a lot more than any other gift I ever received, except those hangers. I wore it out after constant use over 20 years or more.