The Best Gift I Ever Got

by The Hairpin

For the week between Christmas and New Year’s, we’ll be running increasingly less seasonally appropriate installations of Personal Bests.

I was bad at being a little girl. My Cabbage Patch Doll — named Brandy, or was it the more stripperish Brandee, or even Brandi? — failed to turn my head, even when my mother painted a miniature dresser to store Brandy’s green corduroy jumper and maroon-checked blouse. (My brother Mike, insightful even as a textbook teen, asked Mom if the doll and the dresser were for me, or for her.)

Instead, what made the Wonder of ChristmasTM a reality for little me, a gift I still remember with a particular ode to joy was … office supplies. One year, I got a label maker, a “While You Were Out” message pad, a box of pens, and an order pad with carbon copy inserts(!). No more would I scrounge around for scrap paper and tattered file folders with which to conduct my urgent and important business. A little table in my bedroom that other young girls would find suitable for paper doll construction and macaroni-bracelet manufacturing served as my fantasy cubicle. There, I labeled carefully. I took orders and filed them promptly. I returned phone calls, aided by the messages left by my thoughtful and efficient pretend secretary. I worked long and happy hours.

Twenty-five years later, I took a cue from Santa and dipped into the supply closet near the real-life desk I sat at daily. I took a padded envelope and slipped in some stationery and envelopes, a message pad or two, a pack of multi-colored index cards, a few highlighters, and a colorful array of Post-It notes. I sealed the envelope and sent it to my niece, who covets her Barbie Dream House and celebrated her 7th birthday with a fairy-themed party. But sometimes she puts Barbie down and talks to her boss on her mom’s old cell phone. His name is Carlos, my niece tells me. They’re working on a very important project together. — Aileen Gallagher

My friend Nadia and I traded increasingly awesome presents all throughout our teenage years. (I even made her a puppet theater with puppets of us!) Then after high school we went to Paris together, where I got bit by some French-ass spider colony and my leg got covered in pustules that were so gross the French pharmacist gagged when she saw them. Anyway, for my birthday that year, I received a handmade photo album bound in a beautiful floral fabric and pre-filled with pictures of my scabby leg in different idyllic French settings. I love you Nadj! — Carrie Hill Wilner

Senior year of college I lived in an off-campus apartment, in a room filled with the previous occupant’s old furniture. Among the items, all of them hideous, was a dresser with three broken drawers. At one point I complained about this broken dresser to the guy I had a crush on (I always know just what to talk about). Fast forward a couple months to Christmastime. I still had a crush on him, I had just won two tickets to a Patriots game, and since we both lived in Massachusetts and liked football (and because I had a crush on him) I invited him to come with me. When I picked him up the morning before the game, he told me he had a Christmas present for me. “Whaaat, no you don’t,” I said. “No, I do, close your eyes,” he said. So I closed my eyes, he led me into his garage (not in a creepy way), and when I opened them I was standing in front of a wooden dresser with beautifully carved knobs and an arched backboard. “It’s for you,” he said. “I made it.” — Edith Zimmerman

A friend and client of mine gave me this little pink plastic pig vacuum for my birthday. I liked it right away, just as a peculiar, pink, animal-themed object (suggested gift categories for me!). “Know why I got it for you?” she asked.

“Because it’s pink?” I said.

“And…?” she said.

“Because I’m messy?”

“Because you’re a PEEG.” she answered. And that was when I realized it was the best present I ever got. Because a couple years before she bought it for me I told her this story: Once I had brunch at a little French place with some friends. When the very French waiter cleared our plates, it was revealed that under my plate and all around me was about a croissant and a half worth of crumbs, parsley snippets and what-have-you. The rest of the tablecloth remained pristine. My friends all started laughing. The waiter, not at all amused, sniffed, “Yes, she ees a peeg.”

None of my boyfriends, even ones who wanted to marry me, has ever bought me something that so clearly demonstrated that they knew me, and paid attention, and retained the dumb little stories I tell. Plus, useful: now my couch stays crumb free. — Bonnie Downing