I was single, in my twenties and living in Northern California and I wasn’t going home for the holidays. I loved staying in California with my close single girlfriends who were also not going home for the holidays because I had a tradition of our own. We’d go to dinner Christmas Eve and then see It’s a Wonderful Life that was playing at the Stanford Theatre and the following day we’d open presents together.
We were our own family of sorts and we felt a bit like misfits in our own immediate families. We come from a culture where you marry in your early twenties and all of us, well, we sort of missed that boat.
I was also pretty poor. Not living-in-a-box-on-the-streets-of-San Francisco poor, but the Bay Area is not a cheap place to live and my disposable income was always pretty tight, so it wasn’t a priority to buy that airline ticket back home for the holidays.
As the holidays were nearing I was at Costco buying what I’m sure was just one thing (as opposed to a pallet of something like most normal people get at Costco) and I was browsing the book and video tables when I discovered this:
A box-set of the movie, White Christmas, which included the VHS, a movie script (yes! the movie script!), and a glossy black and white photo of the cast.
Boy did I want that.
But it was over $30 and I didn’t have $30 to spend on it.
When Christmas arrived my girlfriends and I gathered together in our pajamas after we finished breakfast and we began sharing stories of how our parents seemed to always miss the mark with Christmas presents when we were growing up. Jill told about how all she ever wanted one Christmas was a coat and she got a night gown. Cami had a similar story. And Amber, who has unique taste in really cool things talked about how her family would buy her bizarre things because they thought really bizarre meant really cool. My story was about when I was in junior high and all I wanted was a pair of designer jeans. Everyone had them and I knew that if I had those jeans it would make me so cool and everyone would like me. (Because that’s exactly how fashion works.)
I didn’t get the jeans. Instead, my mom got my sister and I each a Norelco battery-operated manicure / facial kit that had all these attachments to buff and polish your nails as well as attachments to buff and polish your face. It apparently was the equivalent to a man getting a Craftsman tool kit but for female grooming.
At 13 I really didn’t know much or even care much about grooming. I was going through puberty and a battery-powered grooming kit wasn’t going to solve my problems. Jeans would, though.
We laughed over our stories and marveled at how there seemed to be a common thread about parents missing the mark. We were acting as though we were picked on.
When it came time to open the presents my parents had mailed me I once again felt like they missed the mark. Earlier that month my mom had asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I said, “I need muffin tins. You know, just regular muffin tins.”
I got muffin tins, but they weren’t regular ones. Instead, I got mini muffin tins that make miniature muffins and jumbo muffin tins that make those gigantic muffins. Not what I had asked for.
“You see,” I said to my girl friends. “Why can’t someone give me something I actually asked for?”
Then it was time for the gifts we bought each other–the gifts between girl friends. Amber and Jill both gave me a present they bought for me. When I took off the wrapping paper I saw it. It was the White Christmas boxed set. I looked at it. Then I looked up at both of them. I think it was Amber who said, “We knew you really wanted it.”
And then something happened that had never happened before: My eyes welled up with tears. And I started crying. Amber and Jill looked at each other and then they both looked at me, waiting for me to say something. (Later Jill told me, “We didn’t know what to think. Is she sad? Upset over this? It was a weird reaction.”)
I almost couldn’t talk. I never cry, but I had never wanted something so bad and actually received it. And I was so moved that my two best friends picked up on my desire for White Christmas that they actually gave it to me.
But it would be a tragedy if I ended the story there. Looking back as I write this, I’m cringing at my immaturity and selfishness in the moment that preceded the White Christmas meltdown—the attitude toward my parents who were really trying to get me to think bigger than my wishes and requests. I not only still have the White Christmas boxed set, but I still have those muffin tins and I’ve used them many times. And that Norelco battery operated grooming kit? I’ve thought several times over the past couple of decades that I’d love to have that kit. All along I was thinking that I knew exactly what I needed but I didn’t have the maturity or understanding to look beyond the jeans or the regular muffin tins that I thought I wanted.
The irony in all this is that my favorite song from the movie is the Irving Berlin song, Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep
When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings