Have a smokin’ Christmas!

Published 12:39 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The times – they’ve been a’changing!


A recent conversation with a friend about the Christmas gift her 2nd-grader had made for her last year was both poignant and funny. The object in question was a pair of cord keepers—for storing one’s phone chargers or earbuds—that had been fashioned out of pieces of decorated felt with a small strip of velcro glued on. Essentially, one would gather up the cord and wrap the felt keeper around it, fastening securely, before slipping it into another, small felt ‘envelope.’

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A brilliant idea, I thought, although we both laughed over how ragged the felt had become, with one eye from the glued-on smiley face also missing. “But I’ll never throw it away,” she said. “How could I?”


My mind immediately jumped back to the day I was sorting out my mother’s belongings after she had passed away. Not only had she kept every hand-made birthday card, but also, it seemed, the gift I made for her while in first grade:


A lumpy, glazed ashtray.


She didn’t smoke. Neither did my father.


Just the thought of a child making an ashtray for her parents slays me. For a teacher to come up with that idea for a group of 6-year-olds to construct is so indicative of an age that smacks of ‘Mad Men,’ when people drank and smoked like chimneys. It was the norm. So much so that a friend of mine still proudly presents a photo of her mother, then pregnant with her, laughing at the camera, a glass of red wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other, having a hell of a good time at a cocktail party.


I’m surprised we weren’t prodded into hand-painting shot glasses.


With each grade, our skills at craftwork improved, as did the gifts. There were no computers or cell phones, so no ‘cord keeper’ ideas, but our parents did use writing instruments daily. Thus, the obligatory ‘pencil cup’ was created by all of us, sitting around the big craft table. All that was needed was a frozen orange juice concentrate can, a basket of uncooked macaroni and gold spray paint. Glue guns were yet to be invented and a couple of small bottles of Elmer’s Glue sufficed. Elmer’s was a familiar friend to anyone under 12 and completely safe—we ate enough of it to attest to that—and worked to attach the pieces of macaroni to the can before it was all painted gold.


My mom dutifully used her pencil cup until the pieces of macaroni began to break off, one by one, day by day.


She must have been relieved when we kids were old enough to save up our small allowances and actually purchase Christmas gifts. Bath salts in a pretty glass jar were my go-to from K-mart and could be bought for a buck, and my brother went particularly personal. Trawling the cosmetics aisle, he selected an eyebrow pencil. For redheads.


Mom was blonde.


Here’s to all the mothers out there with little ones who feign surprise and delight each Christmas at every hand-beaded bracelet, thumbprint keychain and paperweight.


Maybe this year you receive a big bouquet of roses!


Made from tissue paper.