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Material Girls

"Where are the men who give 'good gifts'? bemoaned one pal. You know, the ones who get clothes that are not too sexy but feminine. The jewellery getters. The ones that pick up an antique snuff box and wrap in a piece of your favorite sheet music? The ones who do the wine and cheese in a picnic basket and spirit you away? The ones that rent a restaurant for your surprise 30th? Or give you a diamond eternity ring for your first born….and gold and pearls for every child thereafter? The ones that 'get it'. Really take the time to think about it, about you and get the right thing? The guys that get the gift thing.

We all agreed it was not about price. But as the conversation went on, it certainly seemed to be. Is not jewellery, for one, on the pricey side? Along with horse drawn, reserved caleche rides, surprise trips to Paris, weekends at a-spa-near-you?

But more than price, a special gift is one that someone took time to know you and to find the gift to suit. The gift is about intimacy. It makes a statement. It says, I know you, what you about and what would charm your heart and soul and lift your spirits. Well, in a nutshell. Tall order to boot. And pardon me for suggesting that, albeit sexist, women, by and large, are better gift getters. Part of our genetic coding.

Although… dad was real good at the gift thing. Inasmuch as my parents divorced after 36 years, it was not, as far as I could tell, because he was not good at the gift thing. My dad, hardly an airy poetical guy, brought home surprise designer suits, flowers for no occasion, boxes of maple fudge, a stone tumbler to make jewellery and appeal to the creative drives of my mother, odd sculptures, nifty shawls, jade charms, argyle sweaters, and once, even had my mother and me custom made bathrobes in Black Watch tartan. When I was pregnant, my dad, who was in men's clothing, found a bolt of blue worsted wool and made a cape to keep me, and his unborn grandchild warm - throughout the nine months of pregnancy, insuring me and babe were cozy throughout that nesting, Montreal winter. His gift back: The undisguised smiles of pleasure and appreciation - the best of non-verbal thank you notes.

This reminds me that a gift is not only an item that changes hands - it is something in which, as you set out to get one, reminds you of the person you are getting it for. You think and ruminate. You imagine their expression when they receive it - their pleasure - and that becomes indistinguishable from your own. On a mission to get a gift for someone becomes, at least for me, a scavenger hunt of the most special order. It is another occasion I have to express how I feel about some and an occasion to be creative. My gifts, I hope, do not say 'This is appropriate for the occasion' . I hope they say - I am thinking of you, I 'see you '- and this gift represents a reflection of what you are. When you are about things natural and you are bestowed with a vinyl palm tree - it is not about price or taste - that sort of gift says - "I don't see or hear you or what you are about'.

I am also beginning to think that a pervasive dissatisfaction with a man's gift, is a woman's way of being dissatisfied with herself. A gift can become a vehicle of expectation - an unwritten agenda a fella might be clueless about. A gift has come to mean the Holy Grail of Intimacy - that elusive emotional quest so many of us are on or think we should be on. If the gift misses the mark - it is seen as intimacy deficient. This being the case, that is a gap that no mere gift, from Tiffany's or otherwise, might ever fill the gap. Men bearing gifts are simply that; they are not mind readers or champions of the Intimacy Olympics. Putting that invisible expectation on a gift is far too much pressure. It seems to me - that the hollowness is in the recipient to begin with and maybe, rather than find fault with the gift and the giver - both giver and recipient should have a quiet cup of coffee and see what's really up. Sometimes, it is no wonder the gift thing is the subject of sitcoms and stand up routines. Women are never satisfied - and for that, perhaps we should look at our innards, rather than the outer wrappings of one cadeau or another.

My mother once recounted a glamour girl friend whose husband got her one expensive baubble after another. "Pity - she never quite appreciated any of them. Eventually, 'he' stopped getting her things altogether".

That remark has been my core philosophy ever since and I have adopted a sense of graciousness for gifts. It IS the thought that counts and I assume the thought is always positive. No matter what the gift - I go with the thought that getting one took more energy than not getting one.

The truth, as one friend pointed out, is, well, even a modest gift you are not fond of is fine and welcome. "It depends, she said, on what else you are getting. Is he kind and solicitous? Respectful and generous in other ways? Does he make you laugh and do the soup thing when you are sick?" Is he there when you feel like squat? Does he accept you in all your glory, and inglorious moments?

Is there a diamond large enough or gold that glows more warmly than the glance of someone truly knowing and caring about you? How 'things', how gifts pale, compared to that.

Men who have crafted things of wood or used their photographic skills, like my brother for instance, who does both, or in my case, men who have fixed things for me - to make my life easier - I count those among my most treasured gifts. Those are gifts and moments that did not come heralded or wrapped but I knew them for what they were: gifts of themselves.

A man that is inattentive but buys impressive gifts - well, those gifts are upstaged in a thrice by hand-picked daisies of one those sincerity is inherent and those gallantry is innate. Showboating in gift giving hardly rings my chimes.

A gift for a woman, should not, if you treasure her, ever utilitarian. What works for the gander does not work, literally or poetically speaking, for the goose. Give a goose let's say, a vacuum cleaner or vegetable peeling wand and she will quack, whine, nag, get sullen, pout, or weep, as is her style of showing displeasure. My eldest son asked, 'why ever not….if SHE needs a vacuum, what's the big deal?" Take note, son of mine, when in doubt, buy a bouquet. Go with scent. Opt for chocolate. For me, a trained chef - I would swoon for the guy that makes me burnt toast. That, in my particular case, would go miles.

Which brings me to the question of flowers.

Just recently, I received some holiday flowers from a male friend. Delighted, I showed them to a best girlfriend.

"Ah flowers, said my woman pal, that is a guy's easy way out. All flowers takes is a phone call"

Another friend chimed in, 'Sure. And he's in sales. It is such a sales thing to do".

Flowers? Not special? Flowers - a sales ploy?

Those who know me know, I can never have enough flowers. My mother said, it was my first word (fawfoo) and to this day, flowers never fail to charm me- the redder and more velvety the better but all in all - any and all. I briefly dated a florist and where some might snort that flowers from a florist gentleman caller are not special, to me, they were. Each and every creative bundle were inhaled with pleasure. I never even thought - flowers from him, or any man that has ever graced me with, from my sons clasped dandelions from our lawn to the most scarlet of roses from the men tho have made my heart flutter in quite another way - I have never thought a call to get flowers delivered an 'easy way out'
I rather thought it was lovely.

In my glass-is-half-full sort of way, I think, not calling and sending flowers is an easier way out still.

So, in this season of gift giving, dear sisters, my advice is to embrace giver and gift. Kiss both cheeks, and find a beautiful vase that is as crystal clear as is your appreciation, to place them in. Display them with grace. And then say thank you. Very much. These are perfect.

Marcy Goldman

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