I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about my Aunt Alice Winn. She’s one of the last few remaining of the older generation of relatives in my family. She was married to my grandmother’s brother, so she was technically a great aunt (in more ways than one).
She’s had a few spells recently where she’s not been herself: afraid of things that aren’t real, asking strange questions, wondering why people are out to get her. The doctors can’t seem to figure out why she’s experiencing this, and in her moments of lucidity, she doesn’t quite believe she’s slipping. But tonight I’d rather write about the good things I remember about my Aunt Alice.
Her greatest legacy was her uncanny ability to give gifts that were exactly right. So many times at Christmas she would give me a gift that I hadn’t ask for, hadn’t even considered—but absolutely enjoyed. And you know how most relatives lose their edge as they get older? The interesting gifts began to fade into the not-quite-so-exciting gifts like handkerchieves or peanut brittle. Alice never lost her edge. Year after year she surprised me with her gifts.
One year in particular, I remember she bought me a woodburning kit. Now, I know that sounds like a cliche gift like white gym socks or fruitcake, but make no mistake that I loved my woodburning kit. How could you go wrong combining art and burning things?
Alice represents a generation of folks who gave a lot of thought to the gifts they gave. We grab a gift card in line at the grocery store; they hunted year-round for the right gift. Yes, I know all the reasons for giving gift cards: let them choose what they really want instead of giving them something they’ll never use. But that’s just it: the point of a gift is to know a person well enough to give something that is meaningful to them. Trouble is, I don’t think we really know how to give meaningful things to people.
One of the most meaningful gifts I ever received was a set of baseball gloves from my brother, given to me not long after the birth of our son: one glove for me, one for Ethan. That nearly reduced me to tears—not because it was expensive and trendy or because I was dying for a baseball glove—but because it tapped into something that was so meaningful and relevant to me at the time.
Alice’s gifts were special because I knew she had spent time looking for ways to bring me joy with the gift she was giving. I picture her driving around to yard sales, browsing the aisles of Delson’s, poking around the Ghent Reformed Church flea market, with me in mind.
That’s a gift worth remembering.