Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate
December 21, 2011
The other day I received a Christmas care package in the mail from my friend Carrie, who lives in Canada. I could see the box through the window, sitting where the postman left it on our front porch.
It was a big, white box I assumed was filled with all kinds of Christmas goodies because Carrie is the master gift-giver. She’s, like, professional. A flighty artist, she’ll be in your life one day and gone the next, but she will never, ever forget you on a special occasion.
For our engagement she was the first one to send us a gift even though she’d practically fled Aspen a few months before for a two-week trip to Miami from which she never returned. For my bridal shower she called my neighborhood liquor store and paid for a bottle of Prosecco over the phone. And when she couldn’t make it back from wherever she’d gone for our wedding, she had flowers sent to our room at the Jerome. She is always there in her own little artist fairy-dust way.
So I go outside to pick up the box and am surprised to find it empty, with the message, “Received w/o contents” scribbled on the top and on the side. The tape had been ripped open, and somewhere between Aspen and Manitoba, all of the contents had been taken out.
All that was left was a big, empty box.
Since I met Ryan we’ve gone to Minnesota every year to spend Christmas with his family, who, it turns out, is about as apathetic about the holidays as my parents. The only difference is they’re not Jewish. Imagine my surprise when, our first Christmas together, I waited patiently all of Christmas Day for everyone to begin opening presents. I mean, there was a tree, and it had lights on it, and it had lots of shiny, wrapped presents underneath it.
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Being the girlfriend who had only been dating their son for a year, I bit my tongue until I couldn’t take it anymore.
“When are we going to open the presents?” I finally asked.
“Tomorrow,” said Ron, Ryan’s dad, in a very matter-of-fact tone.
“What? Why?” I had to exercise some self-control so as not to appear too upset.
“Because that’s when our granddaughter comes over. We only do it for her, you know.”
Then last year, I went ahead and bought Ryan a flat-screen TV for Christmas. I’m just like that – I like extravagance. So shoot me. This is part of the reason I dreamed of being part of a legit Christian family for so long. All I wanted was lots and lots of presents on one day. That is my idea of a good time. It’s OK that they waited until Dec. 26 to celebrate. I could live with that, especially because they had all the other moving parts in order (tree, lights, wrapping paper, bows).
There was only one problem: Ryan gave me five pairs of socks. That was it.
He’d wrapped them all separately, so each time I opened them, I got more and more flustered. How could this be? Was it a joke? A trick? When I opened the final pair of socks, I went to the bathroom to collect myself. I was at near breakdown and didn’t want his family to see I was a spoiled brat with the maturity of an 8-year-old.
“I can’t believe you bought me … socks.” I hissed as soon as we had a moment alone. “I bought you a TV!”
He got that look, like an angry bull, that he only gets when he is very frustrated. “You’re going to have the best New Year’s of your life, so put a lid on it.”
“Oh! Oh, OK then!” I beamed. That’s when I knew he’d gone and bought me the ring I’d been waiting for my whole entire life. The only thing that undercut my joy was that I felt like the biggest jerk on the planet. “I love the socks! Especially the pink ones!” I said.
Ryan’s dad likes to be the Grinch. He runs around all of Christmas week singing, “You’re a rich man, Mr. Grinch!” And we have to tell him, “It’s not ‘rich man,’ it’s ‘mean man.'” But he keeps on singing it that way anyway. He also likes to give silly gifts – last year it was (guess what) socks with toes.
This year, we’re not going to Minnesota. After the wedding, we’re tapped out. We’re done with the buying and the spending and even the receiving.
For the first time in my entire life, I can honestly say I don’t want anything. I’m absolutely and totally content. I’m not just saying that. I can’t think of a single thing. I swear.
Ryan and I agreed not to get each other anything. We plan to do something fun, hike the Bowl and maybe go out to a nice lunch afterward, but we don’t need gifts. We have each other. Plus, we’re married now, so my money is his money, and we’d both as soon not spend it either way.
When I called Carrie to tell her the box had come without anything in it, she was really upset. To cheer her up and make her laugh, I said, “I just thought it was some crazy-Carrie-artist thing where I had to, like, make believe the gifts were there. That you had sent us imaginary gifts.”
She let out a long, hard cackle. Then when I told her about my contentment she squealed the way she does and said, “It’s so totally the universe that sent you that empty box! It’s almost better than if you had received the gifts at all!”
There are plenty of times when Carrie says things and I have no idea what the hell she is talking about. This was not one of them.