The Best Gifts are Unexpected…

Today’s few minutes of free thought are devoted to the evolution of gift giving. Not the historical evolution, but the evolution of how gift giving changes as we get older.

Remember when you were a kid and grownups were always telling you that it was better to give than receive? It didn’t really resonate, did it?

Remember when you loved birthdays and Christmas because of the gifts you expected to receive? Whether you knew what to expect or not, the fact that you could expect them made those occasions something to look forward to with childlike anticipation.

As I’ve gotten older (ugh) I am finding that those types of things really do matter less and less. The grandeur of gifts matter less and less. Do you know which gifts I treasure the most these days? The gifts I’m not expecting at times I’m not expecting them.

The earliest one I can remember was from my grandfather, who we called Tito. He’s been on my mind a lot lately because the 10-year anniversary of his passing is coming up on March 13. I can hardly believe it’s been 10 years.

When I was a junior and senior in high school, Tito was usually the one who picked me up in the afternoon. He was a very quiet man—a mining engineer from Guanajuato, Mexico who emigrated to the US with my expectant grandma (Tita) and 3 kids (including my mom) in 1949. We rarely talked in the car during those afternoon rides, partly because I was tired from the day, partly because Tito was never into small talk, and partly because I found myself preoccupied with the way he always drove with two feet—one on the accelerator and one on the brake. I’ve never seen anyone else drive like that but, calculated, meticulous man that he was, he never got into an accident.

Tito was a life-long learner. He could build and fix anything. ANYTHING. He subscribed to magazines like Smithsonian and National Geographic and read them from cover to cover each month. (Propped up on a tabletop book stand that he designed and built, of course. ) He taught himself to play the organ, and was always a bit envious (though he never admitted it) that I could play the piano by ear, frequently asking me if I had practiced lately, and always appearing a bit deflated when my answer was “no.”

I often find myself tapping into memories of him.

Tito was not a spontaneous person, a trait I probably inherited from him, so when he did things “on the fly” it really was unexpected—even the smallest gesture.

He had a gruff voice, although he wasn’t a gruff person. I knew that he loved me very much, although he never said the words.

Tito on his 95th birthday in 2006.

I know, a lot of build up for a gesture that will seem small to some, but meant a lot to me.

One weekday afternoon when I was 16 or 17, Tito came to pick me up from school—fairly prompt as always—in his white Datsun truck. I got in, said hi as I put on my seat-belt, and watched him take out a small plastic bag. Inside was a little yellow eraser, about an inch long, in the shape of a piano. He’d been to Pedrini’s Music earlier in the day (probably to look at their books of “easy organ music”,) saw this, thought I would like it, and bought it.

And THAT is why unexpected gifts are the best. Someone has been thinking of you, or you’ve been thinking of someone else, for no reason at all except you’ve seen something that reminded you of them. No holiday, no birthday, just a reminder of friendship or love that exists. That alone is cause for celebration.

I admit I don’t know where that little eraser is right now. I think, after decades of moving it from apartment to apartment in college, then to my California apartment and houses, it eventually got lost in the shuffle. But I did keep it for a very long time. Even the memory of it warms my heart and motivates me to pay that gesture forward once in a while with people I love.

If you haven’t given an unexpected gift before, or if you have and it’s been a while, do it. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, because the nature of the gesture will speak volumes.

And you will be reminded that what you were taught as a kid really is true: it IS better to give than receive.


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