Season of giving

The other day I said to my family, “Let’s all give homemade gifts this year.” This suggestion sank like a stone on a wave of despair, since my kids are still young enough to dream of Lego sets, gadgets, and games. But for my part, I’m determined to do it.

There’s an art to giving a good gift. The French scored with The Statue of Liberty. Every Christmas, millions reenact the scene in which the Magi offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. (You know the joke about how three wise women would have shown up on time, cleaned the stable, and made a casserole instead?) Composer Peter Warlock immortalized his friendship with Frederick Delius in an eight-minute Serenade for Strings, dedicated to Delius on the occasion of his 60th birthday, which classical music lovers relish again and again.

Despite the fact that I am neither skilled nor patient, I occasionally attempt to craft something for love’s sake. When I was small, I tried to make a rifle-shaped pen holder for my grandfather with scotch tape and a manila envelope; it couldn’t hold itself up, much less a writing utensil.

More recently, I imagined a more spectacular handmade gift. A couple had relocated to my town and announced they were building a new house. At the time (this was a few years ago) they were new acquaintances with many common interests, a wonderful sense of fun, and I was more than hopeful that our budding friendship would blossom over years. So I decided to make them a blanket.

Pouring over afghan pattern books, I considered my limits. I’d forgotten how to knit, but I remembered a few basic crochet stitches and picked a design. With the colors of their new living room in mind, I drove to a small Merino sheep farm to buy the finest, most expensive yarn available, snapping pictures of the sheep on the way out.

If you know anything about fibers, you probably know where this story is headed. Crocheting is a very dense stitch compared to knitting, which is loose and flexible. This is why the glorious (in my mind’s eye) afghan I created ultimately resembled one of those lead blankets the dentist drapes over your body before taking X-rays. I’d made what amounted to a twenty-pound, cream-colored, bath mat-sized piece of body armor that, when used, presented the very real danger of heat stroke.

I remember despairing over the project. Then I started to think of it as a metaphor for myself, with all my flaws and quirks. If the new friends accepted it, I reasoned, knowing how ridiculous it was, I’d feel reassured they’d accept me, too, with all my foibles. So I wrapped it up.

When they took it out of the box, they gushed, laughed, and draped it over a chair in their living room. They said they treasured it and even claimed to use it for short periods. But a few months later, one of their Hungarian sporting dogs took a sandwich-sized bite right out of the middle of it. (This was a bad omen; since then, they’ve relocated again and the friendship has floundered.)

My point is that good gifts come infused with creativity, love, and, sometimes, risk. But the greatest of these is love. And that’s a risk worth taking again and again.