Monday, July 6, 2009

Thoughts: On gifts

Monday evening I finished a wedding present for a pair of new friends I have made up here in Vermont. It's a few days late, but fortunately, they were not at all put out when I drove it by that night.

For several weeks, I have had it in my mind that I wanted to do a wedding poem for them, linking it to a photograph. The problem was that they were new friends. I don't have a long history with them, and that made writing a poem that was anywhere close to their heart difficult, but over the past few weeks, I have slowly learned enough of their life's journeys to begin, and then, in of all places, Disney World, I discovered an image that gave me the title and concept to build on.

Over the next week or two, as the wedding day approached, then arrived, I wrote and tinkered until I got it where I wanted it - something especially done for the two of them, so personal and private that it will likely never appear here unless they give their OK down the road somewhere.

Yesterday afternoon I spent with my love, putzing around antique stores. In one of them, I saw several hand-stitched samplers, and it occurred to me how, for so many, the idea of created gifts is no longer part of our every day life.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, many home grown seamstresses, writers and artists created something unique and handmade for people on their birthdays, Christmas, weddings and other special occaisions. Because nearly everyone came from a background where a home-grown gift was understood for the work, effort, focus and sacrifice it represented, such gifts were valued for the time and effort that went in to them. In a real sense, we realized that though perhaps not perfect things, these were gifts of the heart and hand, and they were valued deeply.

Today however, many of us never MAKE anything. And anything we make can probably be done "better" in some factory in China or Thailand. But there is, I think, still a place for the created gift, the gift you make, be it art or music or even the perfect Rice Krispy treats. For some reason we've gotten away from giving those kinds of gifts and go more towards the store bought (with requisite return tag if it's not just the perfect thing), or even money.

There is nothing wrong with the gifts we give, fresh from the stores in their perfectly wrapped boxes, but neither is there anything wrong with the the heart-given creation. They each have value, albeit value of different types.

A month ago, my son turned 11. I bought him a couple of presents, and wrapped them. I am famously bad at wrapping presents. Famously bad, as in one of the family jokes. But one of his gifts, I managed to wrap well. Really well. So well, he had a hard time believing I had done it. And for a moment, something had been lost, that knowledge of the personal touch. He was actually dissapointed at his perfectly wrapped box. That's when I knew he certainly got it - that things done personally need not be perfect to be of great value.

One of the things I am discovering here in Vermont, is how much of that personal touch still lives here. Perhaps it is the artistic nature that pervades the area, or the slower pace of life (and trust me, Southerners like me get a reputation for slow, but we are not in Vermonter's class.), or the fact that as a group, Vermonters seem to have an apprecation of time vs money that is a healthy thing.

Whatever the reason, I am glad for it. As someone who likes creating and giving personal things that take more time than money, and as someone who at times gets those same kinds of gifts. Somehow, it makes life richer.


PS - The picture is of some locally produced maple syrup. Did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap slow boiled and distilled over wood fires to make a single gallon of syrup? But there is no comparison to real maple syrup to the store bought mass produced version we so often buy. The difference is worth the extra money, and carries with it, the gift of time.

1 comment:

willow said...

Lovely, thought provoking post, Tom. And you're right. Once you taste the real maple syrup, you can never go back to that fake sugary stuff we all thought was pancake syrup.