Like those who suffer from seasonal allergies, my shopping aversion is particularly pronounced this time of year, especially when it comes to the chamber of horrors known as The Mall. Between the parking lot where SUVs (often driven by women in workout gear who apparently save their precious steps for CrossFit or Zumba class) circle like hungry sharks for the closest spot, the operating room strength lights, and the sickly sweet smell of the Cinnabon stand mixed with the awful stench piped in and out of Abercrombie and Fitch, the mall is one of the circles of Hell in my book.
So it may seem odd that one of my favorite memories of Christmases past involves shopping... with my dad, no less, the man from whom I almost certainly inherited my anti-shopping tendencies.
While not a shopper, my dad was always what you might call a browser. When he and my mom first arrived in this country in the late 60s and lived in downtown Detroit, they often enjoyed taking in the sights of the stately J.L Hudson's flagship department store, admiring the holiday decor and the elegant mannequins in the window. Eventually, they moved to a boutique-y suburb where they pushed my brother in a stroller down quaint city streets. I don't think Dad ever actually bought much- but he browsed with interest.
By the time I came around, we lived in a neighborhood with no stores to speak of. With two parents with very demanding careers and two kids with busy lives, holiday shopping was not exactly a top priority. But every year, as the holiday grew near (really near, like Dec. 23), my dad would put his game face on and SHOP. And I would get to go with him.
Because he was a man on a mission, there was only one store we'd hit. It was a place filled with gadgets and gizmos galore. A place where technology and imagination came together on every shelf. A place that felt like it contained the Gifts of Christmas Future... a place called The Sharper Image.
Once inside, I'd happily sink into a massage chair with a pair of 3D goggles while a robotic butler dog scooted across the floor in front of me, deftly carrying a sonic toothbrush and an ionic jewelry cleaner on his tray. Meanwhile, my dad quickly but methodically picked out gifts for those on his list: stress-relieving microwavable socks for my hard-working, tired-footed mom. A shower radio for my music-loving brother. And don't forget the talking keychain that spoke phrases in 4 different languages for his travel-obsessed daughter...the one he thought I didn't see him sneak to the checkout.
It was never a big production- we were in and out of the store in under an hour, and back home without any fanfare. On Christmas Day, we'd laugh as we'd open his seemingly random (but actually very carefully selected) items. Recognizing his lack of shopping expertise, the gifts were all the sweeter. I never thought much of it at the time, and I honestly haven't thought about it in years, until a certain catalog arrived in the mail a few weeks back.
Flipping through the pages, I was struck by how much has changed over the years (for instance, why is Heidi Klum on the cover- even she looks like she doesn't know what the heck she's doing there?), and how much still remains the same (A soothing heated gel eye mask...for your dog! A lighted salt and pepper grinder, for your loved ones who face dimly lit seasoning emergencies!).
And that is true in my own life as well. My dad no longer shops at The Sharper Image, or anywhere else at Christmas. In fact, now confined to a wheelchair, he's no longer able to do many of the things he once did. But here's what will never change- at Christmas and throughout the year, I will always try to follow my dad's example with what I consider to be his unspoken rules of Christmas shopping:
1) No matter how busy you are, there is always time to think of others.
2) Sometimes the smallest gestures mean the most.
3) Don't apologize for what you can't do: when love is given quietly and simply, it says everything.
I'd like to think that deep down I always knew all that to be true.
Maybe now, I just have... a sharper image.