The Best Gift Of All

August March
5 min read
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Near the end of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—after having his past, present and future reviewed and revealed by a trio of spirits—Ebenezer Scrooge awakened, went to the window and asked a passing child about the day’s date. Of course it was Christmas Day; who knew? Scrooge then proceeded toward resolution, joyously bearing gifts and goodwill to all he encountered.

I’d say I’ve found myself in similar situations but that’s not quite the case. No ghosts here, although random trans-dimensional entities have occasionally presented themselves to me. I hope that’ll count for something when I show up at this or that holiday party bearing my new beard, a bottle of decent rum and a headful of cray stories about the scene as it was in days of yore.

But those are different tales, best told in the summer—when the days are longer and brighter than my tendency to take tangents to town. So I shan’t digress. Well, maybe just a little; it’s the holidays after all and people just love stories thereabouts; just ask Dickens or the ghost of Dickens. Better yet, follow on, dear readers.

This story’s about what to do when you need to score some presents tout de suite, when the day is already upon you and folks are waiting for you to appear, to jump into the action like a homegrown and heady Santy Claws.

Sometime near the end of the last century, but before 1992, I woke up early and fuzzy-headed on Christmas Day. And realized I needed to come up with gifts for my girlfriend and her family. In case you wanna know, they were a clan of hep artists and musicians who lived in an earth ship in rural New Mexico. I was supposed to be at their solar-powered pad by mid-afternoon.

Although their hippie affiliation included a pronounced and kindly non-materialistic clause—which clearly manifested itself in their toleration of a far-out freak whose experience with Christmas traditions was admittedly cursory—I thought I could do them a solid by showing up with an armload of presents.

Off I traipsed into the cold December morning. Of course just about the whole town was shuttered. Albuquerque was quiet, wrapped up neatly and beatifically like the gifts I sought.

Momentarily perplexed, I rolled around the student ghetto for a while and finally pulled my Peugeot 504 into a parking lot. By now it was 10:30am; I still had to drive two hours into the western desert to get where I was going. I was terminally worried that a lack of proper giftage would seem an affront.

The particular concrete slab where I stopped happened to be adjacent to my friend Jed’s apartment. Jed was a collector and purveyor of rarities. His little home was crammed with vintage militaria, costumes and hand-crafted oddities gleaned from one of many expeditions to Eastern Europe, Central America, Asia or Iceland.

Jed was at the end of an annual phone call. He was rounding up a crew to go and have lunch at Ho-Lo-Ma, a fabulous Chinese restaurant in the North East Heights, he told me as the door to his personal museum swung open.

I related my predicament to him while excusing myself from lunch. Jed took a few drags off his Galoise, smiled and nodded before retreating to the back room. I left 20 minutes later—and a Jackson lighter—with a silk smoking jacket fashioned in Istanbul, a jaguar mask from the Yucatan and a bamboo walking stick the dude had traded for a Bon Jovi cassette while hiking through the jungles of Thailand.

Three hours down the road, I arrived at the adobe abode of my girlfriend and her parents. It was a sunny day and the light was golden as it cascaded onto tumbleweeds and rocky arroyos.

I had wrapped the gifts in pages from the Sunday comics. Of course they didn’t mind that I was late; the presents went over with them grandly and graciously. But over dinner my girlfriend took my hand gently. She said how I shouldn’t have gone through the trouble of getting such exotic gifts; my company and the fact I had driven so far into the wilderness was wonderful as it was.

That year I got a spare windshield for the Peugeot—her father had found it while looking for parts for his ancient Studebaker at the scrap yard—and a pair of home-sewn socks made from llama wool. And love. And acceptance, which beat the hell out of anything I could have thought up on my own.

If you find yourself in a similar situation this time around the sun but can’t count on good fortune’s intercession, stop at any place that is open and find something to give—even if it’s just a DVD from the Valero Corner Store or a dog sweater from Walmart (they’re both open on Christmas Eve and Valero locations throughout the city are open Christmas Day, I hear tell). Give your change from those last minute transactions to the first homeless person you see walking up Central. And remember—no matter where you are headed—to bring an open heart; that’s the best gift of all.
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