By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter
This Christmas, I’m up that proverbial creek without a boat, much less a paddle.
Yes, I am shamelessly shilling for readers’ attention here, since boat woes are as unifying an experience in Alaska as cast iron and Carhartts. In truth, the sinking of my holiday season has zilch to do with potential fishing trips, lake crossings or river floats. It’s nothing that would anoint me with the outdoorsman cred of fish slime, I’m afraid.
No, I have been bested by a vessel meant for a different kind of slime:
A gravy boat.
I wanted to get one for my mom for Christmas, but fell victim to the age-old gift-shopping pitfall of figuring, “How hard could that be? I’ve got plenty of time.”
This is the tendency of overconfident procrastination that results in the giving of scratchy sweaters, packages of socks, sets of cheap flashlights and other incarnations of “oh-crap-I’ve-got-to-give-them-something” presents. How else to explain the biblically epic gift failure of the baby Jesus getting gold, frankincense and myrrh as his welcome to the world?
Had the Three Wisemen not waited until Christmas Eve to do their shopping, they could have gotten to a department store and bought something useful, like a stroller with sand tires, a Diaper Genie or a donkey car seat. But no, they waited until stores were closed and had to scrape around for something they could regift so they didn’t show up empty-handed. It’s a good thing As Seen on TV hadn’t been invented yet, or else Mary would have been saddled with a Slice-o-Matic, the “Ove” Glove, and a hot pink leopard-print Snuggie.
In my case, I decided at Thanksgiving that I wanted to get my mom a gravy boat for Christmas. After spending all day cooking, she went to the extra effort of getting out her family heirloom china to display all the time-intensive deliciousness on. Gold-leafed plates, sterling silver utensils and cut glass dishes sparkled on the table, next to a regular old cereal bowl for the gravy.
I’m a little lost on the finer points of fine dishware, as I tend to consider meals a victory if I can eat out of whatever I cooked in. But even I could tell her second-string gravy bowl stood out like a jug band in the New York Philharmonic.
So I added a gravy boat to my Christmas shopping list. But not just any gravy boat — oh, no. It has to be the right gravy boat. My mother has an eye for detail and a long, long-suffering memory. Having a shade of paint, pattern of shirt or a piece of china that almost matches, but not quite, will drive her quietly (because she won’t complain) but inevitably insane.
I should know. I inherited those genes. Thanks, Mom.
As it turns out, finding a suitable gravy boat is every bit as difficult as finding the perfect any other type of boat.
My boat specifications: White with gold trim, sturdy but not capable of cracking skulls, with a baseplate to catch drips. I could go either way on the ladle option. However, reinforced gunwales, an automatic bilge pump, swivel seats and movable drink holders are a must.
There are suitable models available out in the great wide world, particularly on the World Wide Web, but I waited too long to order one in time for Christmas. So I’ve been looking around town and in our retail neighbor to the north. (I know, shop local, but I’m getting desperate here.) There seem to be only two options:
Chunky, ugly and cheap. I don’t want to shop for my mom with the same standard that describes most of my shoes. Though these clunkers would hold gravy, they wouldn’t be much of an aesthetic improvement over the banged-up saucepan it was cooked in. In hefting a couple models, they seemed more suitable as a weapon in “Clue” than as an addition to a nice table setting. Col. Mustard, in the study, with the gravy boat.
Or there’s the fancy, ornate fine china ones, which I would have to hawk a kidney to afford. Plus, anything over $50 tends to look like a herbivore vomited the clipping pile from a flower shop all over the thing. My dad makes good gravy (one of the few holiday-meal tasks my mom delegates), but it’s still congealed animal goo. It doesn’t need to be displayed as though it’s the crown jewels.
I’ve got a few days yet to come up with something, so maybe I’ll manage a Christmas miracle. Otherwise, Mom, I apologize in advance for the bag o’ socks.
Hyperbole aside, it’s not that one lame gift is going to ruin Christmas. I got to hang out with friends this week and will spend the actual holiday with my family, so I’m feeling fairly bulletproof in the holly-jolly department.
But, over the years, succeeding in gift-giving has become far more important than anything I may get. I know that’s cheesy (Why couldn’t my mom hint at wanting a cheese service set? Those things are easy to find.), but true.
One of many signs of adulthood (along with becoming aware that there is such a thing as a cheese service set, and that scoop-shaped tortilla chips don’t count) is when you become difficult to shop for. If there’s something I really need I can figure out a way to take care of it myself and probably won’t wait until a gifting holiday. And the things I really want can’t be wrapped up with a bow — a cure for cancer, more hours in a day, a moratorium on winter rain ruining our snow cover, the ability to get out of the house in the morning without dropping my keys in the snow, in my coffee or in the cat food (some mornings, in the cat food and then in my coffee).
I certainly remember extravagant presents, thoughtful gifts, kind words and selfless support that I’ve received. Though I’ve appreciated it all, I’ve gotten more satisfaction in giving those things to others. And any twinges of disappointment I may have felt over forgotten birthdays, regifted snow globes or any social slights or oversights that have come my way, could never rival how much worse it feels to be the one doling out those disappointments.
Case in point, a wonderful friend of mine always manages to find me perfect gifts. Thoughtful things I enjoy, yet wouldn’t get for myself: A nifty set of wire-free headphones for running, a Photoshopped picture of me and John Cusack (my imaginary boyfriend), a framed photo that I love. This year, I opened a box from him (yeah, I opened it early, what of it?) to find four examples of my favorite kind of chick lit — Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Mindy Kaling and Samantha Bee (proof that being smart, sarcastic, funny and female is possible and not necessarily a character flaw).
I enjoy the gifts, and particularly the knowledge that there’s somebody out there who knows me well enough to know what I’d like. But when I think of that friend, what more immediately comes to mind is how many times my ineptitude at organizing dates has meant I’ve missed his birthday, and that I didn’t take in his beloved kitties when he was moving and had to find them a new home.
Or another friend, who gets after me to commit to movie nights. There’s always a scheduling conflict, or some day next week, or next month, or next holiday, that would be more convenient. Meanwhile, he’s busier than I am and still manages to drop anything he’s doing to help me out when I need it. The help is invaluable but doesn’t balance the realization that I’ve only managed to watch one movie with him this entire year.
So, my holiday wish for myself this year, and anyone in the same boatless boat, is that the most beloved, greatest-appreciated gifts be from you to someone you care about. That you return the kindness, love and support shown to you over the year, and that you be the sort of friend, neighbor, co-worker or loved one that you appreciate most in your life.
Short of someone getting Congress to pass a nationwide prohibition on meat-based sauces in the next few days, that would be the best present for me this year. It’s the only gift I have my heart set on. Anything beyond that is just gravy.
Jenny Neyman is a reporter and editor of the Redoubt Reporter.