December 11, 2009

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Celebrating life: The ultimate Christmas gift

The moment that I uttered the words I knew they sounded silly: “What do you get the girl who has everything?”

Nothing, of course, suggests common sense. But the Pier One employee fielding my question saw I wasn’t letting that pesky force stand in my way as I milled through paper lanterns, artificial apples and $3 bags of “mini river stones.”

She suggested the very thing that I had sworn off, a bottle of wine, then pointed out a $22 walnut photo tray. This intrigued me: For someone with more pictures than walls, here was a new place to stuff snapshots.

I knew I was in a predicament, shopping for a friend who filled an entire bookshelf with Williams-Sonoma cookbooks. Years later, not a dab of vegetable oil has stained their pages.

I probably should have flipped through Sky Mall, the airplane magazine that showcases the weirdest stuff you never knew you needed (and can’t afford): an Electronic Feng Shui Compass ($159.99), a 3-Day Talking Forecaster ($41.99), a Telekinetic Obstacle Course ($99.95). Online you can choose from 44 alarm clocks—ones with Major League Baseball and National Football League scores, ones built into robots and drum sets and, for the impossible to rouse, a runaway clock that rolls around your bedroom and forces a blanket severance.

It got me thinking about the gifts we give—the things we can wrap, tape and tie, and the intangibles that mean the most. It seems we are beginning to make that distinction, a hard-won lesson of the recession’s tail-end.

A new Consumer Reports holiday shopping poll finds that Americans are planning to cut back on spending, but expect no subsequent drop in yuletide cheer. Sixty-five percent of us plan to curb holiday expenses, while 87 percent await a Christmas that is “as happy or happier than last year.”

Perhaps we are returning to the origin of the word “gift,” which is Middle English for “talent.” It pertains to a person’s capacities, not her funds. This Advent, I challenge you to determine what you are uniquely suited to give—thanks to your job, your neighborhood, your family or your skill set—and offer it to someone who could use a lift.

Looking back on 2009, I remember the gifts that took time, not twenties. The neighbor who mowed my lawn. The Saturday morning Mom cleaned my house, readying it for company. Hugs from grandparents, voice mails I saved, e-mails I printed.

And tucked in my journal, a stack of four thank-you notes from my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Jodie. “Thank you for the cutting board,” one reads. “But thank you especially for just being the wonderful person that you are.”

When Jodie’s dad, Denis, died last month, we were devastated. The morning of his funeral, between “Ave Maria” and “Taps”, our grief was heavy. Then we embarked on a tour of Busch Stadium, home of Denis’ beloved St. Louis Cardinals. As a teenager, Denis had worked as a Cardinals’ change boy and he later got his cousin, Mickey, a job there.

Fifty-four years later, Mickey is now the manager of stadium operations, and he led our tour.

We stepped out of the dugout and onto the field, a Technicolor scene: green grass, red cardinals, silver Arch and blue sky. It was one of those moments when heaven hugs Earth. We all could feel Denis beaming down on us.

Mickey gave us an incredible gift that day: a deeper connection to Denis. We will cherish it with each passing year. That is the ultimate Christmas gift, begun by Mary’s brave “yes”—to accept life, nurture it and honor it.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at

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