What childhood gifts do you remember most? For me, it would have been the pony or the science experiment kit I longed for, but of course my parents were not complete lunatics and, thus, never gave me either of those items. I’m sure they had a vision, (a very accurate vision), of collecting their ten-year-old daughter from jail and having to explain the mutated pony and the trail of destruction left along Scott Road, while an exasperated detective held up a set of beakers and vials as evidence. Unknowingly, my mom and dad may have saved quiet, suburban North Delta from certain doom.
What gifts do I really remember most, and most fondly? Books.
OK, the ten-speed bike and the skis kicked ass over everything else, but only because those kinds of big ticket presents were rare and given with surprises so well-planned they could be the plot of the next Mission Impossible movie.
Books. I remember books and lots of them. I read and re-read them all, sometimes late at night, stealthily, beneath the covers. Through books, AKA my imagination portals, I could live out all the crazy, non-parental approved, adventures my heart desired, over and over and over. Among those tomes, a beautifully illustrated version of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, was the most beloved.
This enduring fantasy about short men with voracious appetites and hairy feet, (hm, this might have influenced some of my early dating choices), was given to me by one of my cousins. Janis or Gail? I can’t remember which, thank you middle-age. Or maybe it was my aunt? In any case, I read that book until the pages fell out, until the corners of the cover curled, until the protective plastic coating flaked away. I spent as much time in Middle Earth as I spent in earth earth. I took the book to school and asked (begged/threatened) my teacher to read it to the class. She did. I carried that book with me when I moved out on my own, when I moved again, and again, and again. (Repeat “again” about 27 more times and you’ll get the idea). I taped up the cover and warned bookshelf browsers to handle The Hobbit with extreme care – or else!
When did Bilbo Baggins and I part ways? I don’t remember. When you move as much as I have, books, those heavy bastards, tend to become casualties in the packing process. (Huzzah, e-readers, huzzah!) But, even so, the books I was given as gifts imprinted on me for life. Wonder, empathy, reason, courage, acceptance, playfulness, all of those qualities and more seeped into me as I read. Long after my Lite-Brite pegs disappeared down heating vents or were eaten by the dog, after the Easy Bake oven’s lightbulb had burned its last cake, after I’d hopped my final Atari frog across traffic, the stories and characters of those books lived on.
They live on still.
Books were my Gandalf, arriving at my door, beckoning me out of the Shire, (or 119a Street), on to great adventures, to worlds undreamed of and friends I’d yet to make. Much cooler, in retrospect, than a pony and a bunch of chemicals. Well played, Mom and Dad…well played.
As the holiday season rushes by, consider the gift of words as you stare wide-eyed and panicked at your list in the middle of the crowded shopping mall. All the framuses and knick-knackery in existence cannot compare to the joy of stepping into another life. Also, you will become the KING OF GIFT GIVERS! What an adventure!
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit