I have this little Brush With Fame that I'm SURE I've told you about, but I am going to tell you all over again. So! In case you were unaware, I was a Budding Thespian in my youth. For reals! I can't really picture my parents doing this, but when I was five years old they let me try out for the Christmas play at the army base somewhat far away-ish from us. And I got a part! (My mother says this is because I was the most well-behaved child there, although I prefer to think it was because of my Budding Thespianism.)
The play was an adaptation of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and I was "Juanita", AKA Baby Angel #3. Hello Stardom!
I have many clear memories of this experience, from drinking myself sick on Swiss Miss cocoa backstage, to crawling underneath the lobby Christmas tree and breaking a bunch of ornaments, to watching the mother of Alice Wendleken curl her gorgeous blond hair in her dressing room. For a five-year-old, it was a Blast And A Half.
Somewhat later - maybe that year? Maybe the next? - Barbara Robinson, the woman who wrote this GENIUS Christmas story, visited my elementary school. She was going to read to the sixth graders, but because I was a well-behaved child, not to mention totally utterly spoiled by every teacher and staff person at my elementary school (on account of all of them being on a first name basis with my parents who used to teach at the same school) I was pulled out of class all special-like to sit in on the reading. I remember sitting with a teacher or two, maybe the librarian, away from the sixth graders but with an excellent view of Ms. Robinson, a Real! Live! Author! (I was also, obvs, a Budding Author.)
Afterwards there was an opportunity to have Ms. Robinson sign our books. I have no idea if I actually owned the book or if someone bought me a copy or what, but growing up I had, on my personal bookshelf, an autographed paperback copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I remember watching her sign it, and feeling a tiny bit foolish when I told her I played "Juanita" and she laughed, since there is no "Juanita" in the book.
I don't have this book anymore. I SUSPECT I left it at my parents' house when I moved away to college. I don't remember taking many books with me when I moved back to the states, at least. And now that my parents live here I haven't seen it in any of their bookshelves. It's lost, misplaced, given away. It's certainly not the biggest deal in the world, but it DOES bum me out when I think about it, and I DO mention it when I refer to my Budding Thespianism, or any conversation about meeting your favorite authors.
I was having such a conversation with a friend a few months back. A simple, silly, "ha ha, I was a BABY ANGEL", blah blah blah, "sure wish I still had that book" story that eventually moved on to things like "is there any more wine" and "how do we get our kids to listen to us, FTLOG!" You know, the normal stuff. And then last week I opened my mailbox and there was a small package inside: a used book from a used bookseller, a hardcover copy of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, with the original illustrations, and autographed by Barbara Robinson.
My heart, it grew so many sizes.
This friend knows how to give good gifts. This was not the first good gift I've received from her, not the first gift where she remembered a conversation or something I mentioned admiring or something I longed for. These aren't expensive flashy gifts, they're thoughtful. Gifts that show that you are known - those are the best kind.
I, on the other hand, am a terrible gift giver. Oh, I have my moments. Sometimes I can come up with some pretty great ideas for other people's gift giving dilemmas. Every once in a while I, too, will remember The Thing that will make the perfect gift. Months before her birthday I made a mental note of the moment my sister said something about wishing she had a "From The Library of Ms. Lastname" stamp for her classroom books. I was RATHER proud of myself. But just as often I buy my mother a sweater than doesn't fit, a friend a random string of jewelry I'm just hoping she likes. Worse yet I don't remember to GIVE gifts. How many new babies have I neglected? Even when their mothers have showered me with out-of-the-blue treats and gifts. And how many just-thinking-of-you packages have I thought of to send, and never got around to it? (SO, SO MANY. Sorry, Internet Friends.)
I worry, because I know for a lot of people, Presents are how they know they are loved and remembered. But we are not all fabulous gift givers. I have one friend who - I'm just going to say it! - is quite possibly a worse gift giver than me. But you know, she is super fabulous, the best I know, at taking care of you when you're down. Cleaning your messy spaces, feeding you, entertaining you, watching your kids, giving of her time and energy to physically help you out of your funk. It's a HUGE gift, and yet another kind that I am terrible at giving. But it does give me hope that I am giving as well, in my own way.
I wish I was the aunt who sends silly holiday-themed treats in the mail. I would love to be the friend who spies the perfect Etsy birthday gift. I wish I could MAKE things, I wish I could bring delicious dinners, I wish I was even halfway AWARE of what other people are needing at whatever point in their lives.
Instead I love - I know how - to write to you, to tell you how much I love and appreciate you, to make sure that you know that I know you, and I feel as much as you wanted me to feel about your gift. I love to write an embarrassingly mushy card, an email that perhaps betrays too much, a line in an instant message conversation that solemnly declares that I love that I know you, that I'm so thankful just for that.