By Charlie Mitchell
OXFORD – All I want for Christmas is my other house shoe. Yes, I know. My wish is not nearly as cute as the more popular version seeking “two front teeth.”
But my teeth are fine (so far). What I need is my other slipper.
I think I have the world’s record for losing one and only one.
I don’t know how I do it.
We don’t have a dog. So I can’t go that route.
We don’t have a housekeeper. So I can’t go there, either.
Almost every year, I am given footwear, by request. You know, it comes in one of those red boxes with which department stores deck their halls this time of year. One size fits all. Light brown or dark brown. Fuzzy or unlined. Absolute final, closeout price. Something for the “man on your list” if the man happens to be a doddering old dude either in or at the door of the rest home.
I’m not in or near the door of a rest home – although there’s nothing wrong with that. I just need a shoe.
And, if past is prologue, by February, one will be missing.
Not under the sofa. Not under the bed. Not in between the mattresses. Not in that jumbled pile on the closet floor no one has touched in years. Not in the laundry room. Not behind the dryer. Not on the roof.
Just gone. Sometimes the left shoe. Sometimes the right. Never both. Just one.
“Gifting,” as it is now called, is the topic of the day.
It occurs to me that the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” can be asked by two groups. One is composed of people who might actually “gift” you something. A parent. A friend. A honey. The other is composed of people who merely want conversation.
With the former, it’s smart to stop and think. These are people who want to provide a present that will be used and, yes, appreciated.
With the latter, it’s OK to say anything. “A battleship” was my favorite answer for years.
It goes back to the fact that I was on the trailing edge of the generation of young men who were, shall we say, Vietnam-eligible.
A way to avoid the draft was to enlist, which I did not do. Whenever the subject arose, I would say enlisting was a possibility, but I was negotiating for my entry rank and, specifically, that I wanted command of my own battleship from day one.
People usually changed the subject after that response.
Another form of the “what do you want?” question changes the wording to, “What are you getting for Christmas?”
I never liked that one.
I still don’t.
It presumes way too much.
Nothing worse, in my view, than to hear some preteen rattling off a list of a dozen or more items she fully expects to find under the tree and, presumably, will have a hissy if she doesn’t.
I get in trouble with people all the time because of my curmudgeonly ways. When I hear people say, “We have to get a gift for …” I cut them off.
“No,” I say. “We do not have to give – we are not required to give anyone anything.” This is in accordance with the thinking that a gift represents affection and appreciation, not obligation. I love giving gifts. I love receiving gifts. But not if they result only from incidental kinship or the giver is making payments on a debt.
I mean it. A gift is not a gift if the giver feels the slightest bit of compulsion. It’s also not a gift if the undercurrent is, “You got me something so I have to get you something.” The best words a giver is able to say is, “I saw this and I thought you’d like it.” (Yes, there could be a problem if said gift, rapidly unwrapped in anticipation, turns out to be a framed photograph of the giver. But that would be the exceptional case.)
All of this gifting does have theological roots, remember. It’s no small thing that the gift given to mankind on the first Christmas Day came with no strings attached. Humanity didn’t earn what was given – and can never repay.
As for me, I just want my other house shoe.
I could do with just the left one, but they’re not sold as singles, so I’ll be happy with another red box.
Its contents will keep my tootsies warm through January.
Then it will be time to start searching again.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.