One thing my mother taught me, besides never go into the newspaper business, is don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. This is an old saying that means literally if someone gives you a horse, don’t look in its mouth to see what shape its teeth are in. You can tell a lot about the health of a horse by looking at its teeth. Horses don’t like this. Besides learning about the health of the horse, you might also learn a thing or two about your reflexes when the horse tries to bite you. But according to my mom, who put more importance on good manners than Emily Post ever dreamt of, looking in the gift horse’s mouth to see if its death is imminent would be a sign of ingratitude. So, to summarize, ingratitude=bad manners=an annoyed horse. Thus, according to transitive law, ingratitude=an annoyed horse. There is a lesson here somewhere but it got lost down the horse’s throat. Along with several of your fingers if you aren’t quick enough.
Back to human gifts. This boils down to about seven words: want vs. need of the giver vs. the recipient. Gift-giving is frequently seen as a duty, a particularly unpleasant duty. Gift givers are supposed to have a feeling of joy and fellowship when they can bring some happiness into another person’s life by presenting them with a wonderful memento of their friendship. The key word in the that sentence is “supposed.” Mostly what gift givers feel is relief that they can cross “get gift” off their to-do list. Gift giving is especially difficult because most of us already have enough stuff. Therefore, gift givers are driven to frenzies not normally associated with acts of kindness and charity. One thing despairing gift givers do is consult gift catalogs for new ideas.
Almost inevitably, they will hit upon the thought of a fruit basket. On the face of it, this is a good thing. Fruit is consumable. It doesn’t remain as “stuff” very long. Soon it becomes compost. Problem solved. Unfortunately, most fruit baskets are immense. They look like something Carmen Miranda wore as a hat. Note to everyone under fifty years of age: Carmen Miranda was a movie person who was popular in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s at which time it apparently became unpopular to dance around with an enormous mound of fruit on your head. She is neither Carmen Electra (who was married briefly but probably not briefly enough to Dennis Rodman) nor is it related to Miranda rights. That particular Miranda was a guy whose day could have gotten worse only if he actually did have a basket of fruit on his head, interspersed with a kilo or two of cocaine.
So most gifts end up being things that sit around in a decorative fashion. Things that sit around do three things. (1). They look either attractive or (depending upon the level of desperation of the gift-giver) borderline hideous. (2). They remind the gift recipient of the gift-giver. This can be a good news/bad news event. (See No. 1 above.) (3). They collect dust. (The gift, not the giver or taker although in certain circumstances this could be true.)
Re-gifting is another area of potential embarrassment. A party for my friend Sandy was brought to dead silence when she opened a gift someone had re-given that still had the original card in it. But wait ! There’s more! I once received a gift from someone that was the exact same item I had given her the year before. Needless to say, I was overcome with the depth of the gift-giver’s thoughtfulness and the time she invested in digging it out of the back of her closet.
But, due to my mother’s ceaseless training, I had the good manners not to try to look into the horse’s mouth. It was clear I was dealing with the other end of the horse.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for the Troy Daily News and Piqua Daily Call.