Unexpected gifts

By Vivian Lawson Hogue

In this year of utter turmoil, the annual subject of gift-giving still must come up. How does one buy for the person who has everything? Or the person who doesn’t want anything? Or is your billfold a little slimmer this year?

As I recall my 5-year-old self, I frequently met Mr. Casteel, our postman, at the edge of the front porch asking when the Sears and Roebuck catalog would arrive. I think I imagined that he personally gathered them up still warm from the printing press in Chicago and would bring one straight to us. Anyone who experienced the same excitement knows about circling items one wanted Santa to bring.

I recently found a neatly crayon-printed Christmas list that I once left on the coffee table – as if he knew it already and would have them in stock in the trunk of the sleigh. We rarely received items on our lists, but it was fun to dream since the catalog was, after all, called the Wish Book. My Depression-era brothers would get one gift plus ribbon candy and an apple. My father, a turn-of-the-century, hill-country lad, and his nine siblings had an orange and a small gift in their stockings at a total value of 25¢. The number and value of gifts has always seemed to depend on an economic crisis or war, whichever came first. Often it was both.

But what of gifts that are not in a material form? Are you immediately accepted as friendly by a dog, cat, child or elderly person? Not everyone has that gift, but theirs may be evidenced elsewhere. You may have the gift of appreciation for keeping alive a hobby of stamp collecting. Everyone has a gift, whether physical, mental or spiritual, and some have all of those! You can’t deny it or ignore it, but you do have to discover and develop it. You may surprise yourself!

I am an appreciator of items, stories and histories in regard to ancestors. In my own genealogy research reaching back to the 900s, some ancestors were married to royalty and some beheaded by royalty. Others led much simpler lives and kept their heads. Some items are long-revered but may hold no value to anyone else. One valuable item of mine is a large family Bible printed in 1896, apparently a gift to my grandparents Arnold on their wedding day. It contains their marriage certificate and records of all family members’ birth and death days.

The many-times retold story of that wedding is a gift in itself. In December of 1898, my Grandfather Arnold ordered my grandmother’s wedding ring from a jeweler in St. Louis, Mo. After many months of secretly writing love notes in pencil on scraps of paper, they finally decided to marry. The misunderstandings had been many, the same as now when a text or email doesn’t adequately convey emotions or intent.

The ring arrived by mail nestled in a tiny box, but stuffed in that box was also a note he had written on a 9-inch by 2 ¼-inch slip of tissue-like paper. To fit the box, it had been folded lengthwise into thirds, then folded eight times to about the dimensions of a large stamp. The ring box was placed in a slightly larger box adorned with a few 3-cent stamps, and it was sent on its important mission.

The note, written in pencil as usual, said: 

Dear Effie: This I got for your Christmas gift, but it did come too late. I am sorry it is too large. I wish you would not use it before the first of February, for there are several that know I got something [but] don’t know what it is. It doesn’t make any difference with me [but] it is not the kind I thought it to be when I sent for it.

Kindly to Effie, 


Granddad followed up with a jeweler’s card with holes for determining ring sizes, so the sizing matter was settled. Effie and Noel had not revealed their plans to anyone. They simply told the preacher he could be at Effie’s home at 9 a.m. on the 9th of February. Regardless of snow and ice on the ground and the frost-bitten preacher riding a horse, he did arrive, but on the wrong day.

My great-granddad was busy with hog-killing. Upon hearing the preacher’s intent, the future father-in-law headed for the house and gathered his six daughters to ask, “Which of you is planning a wedding tomorrow?” Grandmother admitted it was she, and on Feb. 9, 1899, she finally got to show attendees the mail-order ring not of her choosing. But the groom most certainly was.

A gift, tangible or not, is something given without expecting payment. It can also be called a blessing. It may be a gift such as Grandmother’s ring or perhaps the gift of God’s blessing upon a marriage. In December we are reminded that Jesus was God’s gift to us and the gifts the Magi brought to Him were used at stages of His life and death.

A favorite Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?” asks if Mary actually knew that when she kissed her little baby Jesus, she kissed the face of God. She received a Christ-gift that was not in the Sears catalog, and all believers received a duplicate of that gift, free of charge and with the manufacturer’s lifetime guarantee. And that’s a joy to the world!

Vivian Lawson Hogue
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