I first experienced the joy of giving in the seventh grade when my junior high Y-Teens Club adopted Rita, a teenage girl from the “state school,” for Christmas. We didn’t know if she was an orphan, a delinquent, or just poor. We did know we had collected seventeen dollars and were to buy her presents. So two other girls and I headed to Woolworth’s in downtown Pascagoula right after school. We shopped for nearly an hour, carefully tallying each purchase. I remember a scarf, perfume, costume jewelry, a diary, all luxury items from the five and dime. Nothing practical — it was Christmas, after all. There in Woolworth’s, somewhere near the cosmetics counter, I fell in love with giving and shopping, especially shopping with someone else’s money. Ask my mother, my father, my husband. I’ve perfected the art of shopping OPM, that’s shopping with “other people’s money.”
But don’t fall for the Christmas line that all the joy is in the giving. There’s plenty to be said for the receiving end. My grandmother, who had weathered what must have been terrible times during the Depression, was living a comfortable life in her seventies. She owned her own home and had a brand new Ford in the garage. Her six grown children and their spouses, plus twenty grandchildren, would give her anything she wanted, even if she never asked. She had a kitchen pantry filled with jars of preserves ranging from jellies and jams to vegetables. She had a freezer filled to the brim with butterbeans, shrimp and chicken. Outside stood a fig tree, a scuppernong arbor, a garden, and a chicken yard populated with fryers and layers.
The front bedroom where no one ever slept, directly across from the living room where no one ever sat, was a storehouse filled with bulk buys and bargains. When she escorted us into the bedroom, eager to show off the rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, or rows of canned goods, soaps, toothpaste or shampoos, we treated the room with reverence. Boy Scouts and Mormons could have taken lessons from her. My grandmother, Mrs. Jones, was prepared for the apocalypse.
One holiday season, the private school around the corner from my grandmother’s house decided to “adopt” my grandmother for Christmas. No doubt they thought she was starving. They collected dozens of canned goods and proudly delivered them to her door in a brown cardboard box. On Christmas Eve, she escorted small groups of us into the bedroom to admire her gift box from the school. She’d point to the creamed corn or the pumpkin and smile. Her sons and daughters shook their heads wondering why their mother was so pleased. But, the box was, without a doubt, far superior to any gift under the Christmas tree in the living room. My grandmother had received her perfect Christmas gift and was so appreciative and honored, that I doubt the thought ever crossed her mind that “the box” might have been meant for some other Mrs. Jones.