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White Elephant

December 10, 2011

In 2004 we were invited to a Christmas party, our first non-family Christmas party invitation since we moved to this berg.  I was very excited.  But my excitement over the invitation was trumped by the footnote at the bottom… a request to bring a white elephant gift!   Did we just win the lottery or what?  I was over the moon!  I freakin love stuff like this!

“Hi, my name is Amy and I’m a dork.”

“Hi, Amy!”

Any whoo… (Did I really just use “any whoo?”  See above:  “Hi, my name is Amy…”) Any whoo… I love the idea of white elephants, both the large albino mammals AND the gently used items that are re-gifted that may or may not be a joke.  I have so much crap, er, I mean so many beloved possessions, that I need to dump, er, bless friends, loved ones and/or strangers with.

I guess I should qualify my unbridled love of white elephants.  I had only ever participated once in the re-gifting and I’ve NEVER interacted with the mammal kind.  It is probably more accurate to say “I theoretically love white elephants.”  That sounds really dorky but I do carry that card, so it’s ok.

Let’s take a walk with Scrooge’s first visitor, The Ghost of Christmas Past, shall we?

The first time I ever heard the term “White Elephant” I was about 8 or 9 years old, 1970-ish.  My mom was getting ready to go to a Christmas party, most likely with the Altar Society or with the “gals” from Pinnochle.  I clearly remember four things:

  1. The house smelled like “Here’s My Heart” perfume so I knew she was going out.  Happy tidbit from my childhood: my mom called her perfume “Ears Me Art” because she is half leprechaun.
  2. She had on a fancy dress (she is half French-Canadian, so fancy is in her blood) and lipstick ( she’s also half Avon Lady.) Separately a fancy dress or lipstick would prove that she was going out.  Together meant it was someplace really special.
  3. I heard her tell my Grandma “We’re giving  each other white elephants.”
  4. I became super excited because I knew that the next morning I would wake up to a new pet:  a white elephant that someone gave to my mother at her party.  Good Lord, we are lucky!

Needless to say I was disappointed early the next day when I raced around the house in my footy pajamas looking for our elephant.  I looked out the windows… nope, not in the yard.  Garage?  Nope.  Well of course it wasn’t there, those are the obvious places, yes?

Always one to think outside the box, dorky little-me also looked in closets, cupboards, behind the couch, under the dining room table (in my defense it was a huge table), in the bath tub (think white elephant poop containment) and finally the refrigerator, where sadly there weren’t even footprints in the jello.

So I asked where the elephant was.  ” I wanna see it.”

She laughed for about a  month.  Are you half liar, too, Mother?  Hmm?

She explained what it really meant but it lessened not the bitter sting.   I was pissed.  How stupid!  Why call them white elephant gifts?  Why not “I don’t care enough about you to go buy you a real gift” gifts?

As I matured, so did my appreciation of many of the finer things in life, including, NO, especially White Elephants.  Grabbing the hand of  the Ghost of Christmas Past once again, we travel to 1983, my 21st Christmas….

I worked in the business office of a small hospital.   The business office staff exchanged white elephant gifts at Christmas that year.  I was young and very intimidated by the other women, all of whom were ancient, like 50, so in true Amy style, I purchased a nice gift and took off the price tags.  We were instructed to wrap them but not to use gift-tags so it would be secret, on accounta secrets are the most fun ever.

Colleen, an alarmingly bitter divorceé, who kept ashes from the burnt photos of her still living ex-husband in an urn on her mantle and called it “my dead husband,” put a small gift, wrapped in loud purple birthday paper on the pile.  I took notice, not only because I’m kind of a ninja/super sleuth but because it was purple birthday paper.  When it came time for each person to choose their secret gift, I noticed that Ms. Crankypants grabbed her own gift back.

Captain Obvious saves the day!  “Hey! That’s the same gift you put in the pile!”

The way she looked at me made me feel like I was being measured for an urn of my own.  I did not press.  We all opened our gifts but I kept my eye on Colleen.  She opened hers and whadaya know?  It was her favorite scarf which she had already been wearing at least once a week, every week.  She continued to wear it until she retired.

Profoundly awesome.

I opened a coffee mug that said “Golfers Make Better Lovers” on one side and “The Poconos” on the other.  Sadly, it disappeared from my desk  the next day, which was fine because I didn’t drink coffee.  Sadder still, it would be 21 years until I participated in this life-changing ritual again.

Let’s take the ghostly hand one last time and return to 2004 and our invitation, mmm-kay?

Upon reading the invitation I immediately thought of Colleen’s favorite scarf.  I would have to give clothing.   I knew I wanted to give obviously used clothing.  None of this “gently used” business for me… if it isn’t threadbare, I am not done with it.

Hmmm, what do I have…. that I can give to strangers…  that nobody will miss at my house…. and we don’t need/want/use?

Here is the poem I wrote and slid into a Currier & Ives-ish tin with our gift.

In every home there is a spot

A small, sad place that time forgot,

Where singles, ones and loners live,

These treasures now to you we give.

These came to our house as part of a pair,

A trip to the laundry and now one’s not there.

They come in all colors from dark blue to pink

And since we use Downy, they no longer stink.

Their partners have vanished so most people hate them.

For a very long time we thought our dryer ate them.

Most families keep them, even our family did

In this cute little tin with it’s cute little lid.

An invite from Johnsons gave us quite a lift

We can make these dumb socks our white elephant gift.

We hope you like this gift from me and my spouse.

Maybe you’ll find their matches somewhere in your house.

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