• Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Meta

  • Advertisements

Surprising Teacher Gifts

“Open mine next! Mama said you’d like it. Is that your favorite color? Mom said everybody needed what I got you.” My students sat on the floor at my feet, and they were excited while I opened the pile of Christmas gifts on my desk. And often, they were just as surprised as I was by the gifts they gave.

During my teaching career, I taught third, fourth, and sixth graders, and parents – usually mothers – purchased gifts for teachers. So when children shouted, “Open mine next!” it was because they wanted to know what they were giving.

When I taught, poplar teacher gifts were Christmas pins and tree ornaments. I have ornaments, with students’ names written on the back, that I still put on my tree each year. And I’ve kept some pins, but the ones with the words ‘Best Teacher Ever’ were quickly stored away.

Some gifts weren’t typical teacher presents. A 3rd grade boy hung his head as he handed me a wrapped package and told me his mother had picked it out. It was a Teflon pie pan. I thanked Steven, hugged him, and assured him it was a great gift because I didn’t have a pie pan like that one. My assurances didn’t help. The other children had beamed when I held glittery red Christmas ornaments and pinned one more pin on my red sweater. This little guy couldn’t be consoled. Later his mother told me that he’d wanted to give me a sparkly Christmas tree pin, but she wanted me to have a pie pan like hers. This was a lesson. Years later, I wanted my own children to like the teacher gifts they gave.

Sometimes students told me about the cost of their gifts. When a girl gave me a store-wrapped package with gold paper and a red bow, I knew where the gift had been purchased and most items there weren’t typical teacher gifts. It was tree ornaments – a pair of beautiful green-feathered birds. As the students and I oohed and aahed, the gift giver said, “I picked them out and momma said you’d better like them because they cost a lot.” For the past twenty-five years, these two birds have decorated my tree and I still like them.

One boy was really proud of his gift and said his mother thought every teacher should be able to use it and it’d be different from everyone else’s. She was right – no one else gave me a photo album and I did use it. When I thanked him, he said, “Momma got a really good deal on it. It was on sale for half price and she had a coupon.” And then he told me exactly how much the album cost.

Students taught me that the gifts they give should be something they like, no matter what the mothers and the teachers think or the cost. Children give from their hearts.

Advertisements

Bagged or Wrapped Gifts?

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-7-46-58-amscreen-shot-2016-12-15-at-7-47-38-amBags, bags, and more bags.  Blue ones with glittery snowflakes. Some with Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Some with angels. I will never use all the gift bags that have accumulated in my Christmas wrapping box. Do they multiply like wire coat hangers?

I told my oldest Grand, age 11, that everyone was getting gifts in bags this year because it’s easier and I have a plethora of bags. He dropped his shoulders and glared that pre-teenage stare. “Really, Gran? Last year you put our gifts in one bag. I didn’t like that. I like separate wrapped gifts.” I’d copied an idea to have a big bag for each of our eight Grands. Inside were two or three wrapped gifts, without ribbons or bows, wrapped loosely in tissue paper.

I plastered my biggest encouraging grin. “David, I know, but I’ve already got eight big bags and I can put smaller bags inside the big ones.”

“Can you just wrap mine? In a box? With ribbon? Probably nobody else cares.” And, really, I’m with David. A traditionalist that likes boxed, wrapped gifts with ribbon and bows.

Remember when Christmas gifts were wrapped in shiny red or green paper and plaid ribbon crisscrossed the package and tied into a big bow? When red and white striped paper was tied with green ribbon? When gold metallic paper and gold ribbon were for very special gifts? Someone would say, “That’s too pretty to open.”

And remember when packages were decorated? Mom saved every wax paper and toilet paper cardboard roll for Christmas wrapping. To make decorative candles, we covered rolls with red paper and cut gold colored flames and then taped candles and flames green packages.

I worked to make Dad’s present look like a shirt. After wrapping the box in solid colored paper, I cut and taped bright red or green paper to be a shirt with a collar. If we didn’t have paper that looked like a tie, I’d draw and color a striped one.

Construction paper worked best to create snow scenes on the front of a package. Green triangle trees with red ribbon roping and white three-circle snowmen. And aluminum foil held its shape to make 3-D bells and was perfect for five-pointed stars.

Some decorated packages were hazardous. Mom saved cut-off tops of tin cans. I glued small pictures from old Christmas cards in the middle of the tin circle and outlined the pictures with glitter. Multi-colored was my favorite. Using Mom’s heavy wire cutting scissors, I cut slits from the edge almost to the center of the tin and carefully bent the edges. I tied these tin wreaths to a bow on packages and some wreaths decorated our Christmas tree.

So this Christmas, I’ll give most gifts in store-bought, mostly recycled, decorative bags. But there will be a few wrapped packages under my tree. Shiny red paper with plaid ribbon. David will know which gifts are his.

###

 

 

 

 

 

Give a Gift and Get it BAck

 

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-01-59-am            It’s a plain white ten-inch tall teapot with a hexagon shape base. I gave it as a Christmas gift and got it back. When Aunt Doris’s kitchen cabinets were cleaned out after her death, my cousin said, “Here, Susan, this is yours. It has your name on the bottom.” I gladly brought the teapot home.

Every Tuesday night in 1970, I scrubbed and glazed ceramic pieces and made many Christmas gifts and then years later, some were returned. The teapot is my style, but that’s not true of the tall vase with pink and blue flowers that I made for Husband’s grandmother. It looked at home on Granny Ray’s living room French provincial desk and now sits in the top of my closet waiting for the right place. However, I love that the white and gold Christmas candy dish was returned. It brings back memories of Husband and me taking Daughter to his grandparents’ house for her first Christmas. Granny Ray held Daughter, her first great-grandchild. The candy dish, centered on her coffee table, was filled with Granny’s homemade chocolate covered cherry candy.

I made other gifts. A green felt Christmas card holder, decorated with sequins and silver rickrack, hung in Mom’s kitchen. When the glue on the pockets gave way, Mom stitched it, as I should have done. It hung in my kitchen for a few years and now it hangs at Daughter’s house. On my sewing room shelf is a needlepoint purse made from plastic squares. Simple nature designs decorate each square. I did the needlepoint and stitched it into its box shape, and Mom lined it and attached handles. Maybe it’s time I carry it; the Grands would like the butterflies and frogs and birds.

One of my favorite returned Christmas gift is inscribed ‘Presented to Dad by Susan, Allen, Alicia, and Eric. Christmas 1983.’ I’m thankful for the large print in this King James Bible and treasure the few notes Dad wrote in it.

When I was thirty, I thought a gift given, stayed given. Now I know better. And if children are smart, they’ll give gifts they want. Things they’d like to own, but wouldn’t buy for themselves. So I’m making my Christmas wish list with that in mind. What would my children like?

Local artists offer some fine gifts. A wood sculpture or vessel from Brad Sells’ Bark Studio or Andy Lane’s Against the Grain Wood Sculpting workshop. Pottery from Addled Hill Pottery where Susan Stone takes her inspiration from nature. Or how about a piece of jewelry crafted by Lenny and Eva? And then there are artists, like Marilyn and Adrienne, whose paintings could decorate my walls.

How about a jigsaw puzzle or a book? Diamonds? Rubies? Silver? Gold? Or make something homemade? Whatever gift my children choose, I hope it’s something they like because someday it’ll be theirs. That’s just how it works. Give a gift and get it back.

 

 

 

Granny’s Christmas Gifts

searchMy Grands would never ask me “Will tobacco sell high this year?” but that’s a question I asked my granny when I was a young girl and sat beside her on her couch. In her lap, Granny held a cardboard gift box lid filled with cracked black walnuts, and she held a metal nut picker in her hand.

After Thanksgiving, Granny spent most days fretting about the price of tobacco and picking black walnuts out of their shells. She’d say, “I don’t know how much I can give you for Christmas. It depends on what my tabaccy sells for. At least the walnuts are good this year.” The tobacco had been grown on the family farm and although Granny never came close to it – not to plant or sucker or hoe or cut or stalk or strip or haul it – it was her tobacco because it grew on her parents’ farmland where she grew up.

While Granny, my paternal grandmother, fretted about tobacco prices, her hands stayed busy. She kept a list of people to give a pound of black walnuts and she touched every nut – several times. Two walnut trees stood close to the tobacco field. In October when the nuts, enclosed in green and yellow thick hard hulls, began to fall, Granny picked them up –filling many five-gallon buckets. Not a single nut was left on the ground. She and I searched for nuts that rolled far from the trees or hid under leaves.

Granny was impatient waiting for those green hard hulls to soften and turn black. She laid some nuts on her wooden back porch and used a hammer and chisel to remove the hulls, but most nuts were taken to our house. When the hulls began to turn black, we spread the nuts on our gravel driveway. The mushy hulls fell off under the pressure of the cars’ tires. Then Granny and I wore brown cotton gloves, designated the walnut gloves, and rubbed the remaining scraps of the hull from the thick shell. It was a nasty job.

After that, Granny spread the nuts on flattened brown cardboard boxes to dry and cure inside her house for at least two weeks. Again, she was impatient and because she and I liked the flavor of green walnuts, she’d crack and pick out nutmeats for us to eat. (More than once I had a green walnut stomachache.) Granny used a hand operated lever nutcracker, mounted on a two-foot tall log, to crack the thick, hard shells. She held each nut securely, in perfect position so that the shell practically fell away from the nutmeat.

Granny’s sharp nut picker was a precise tool in her hands, and she didn’t let me or anyone else, use it. She removed half and quarter pieces, and then she’d spread those nutmeats on newspaper to dry out for a few days. Figuring that a quart jar measured a pound, she measured and then filled empty Christmas card boxes with walnuts.

Granny’s Christmas gifts depended on the growing season. Family and friends were always glad when the walnuts were good. And if tobacco sold really high, I got a crisp five-dollar bill stuck inside a Christmas card, but some years I got a one-dollar bill. No wonder I asked about the price of tobacco.

search-1