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The Art of Giving

Beyond shiny things and useless utensils
      Shopping for gifts can be a challenge. I know. I shop like a magpie. Shiny things catch my eye, and often open my wallet. Glitter is part of what draws me, but so does novelty, cleverness, improbability. 
      With tastes like that, I’ve given many gifts that even I, on reflection, acknowledge must have struck their recipient as very odd. Better, I tell myself, than “some useless old utensils or a matching pen and pencil,” the thoughtless-gift coupe de grace delivered by that classic mid-20th century bard Tom Lehrer.
       So I tell myself. But memories of really mismatched choices haunt me. Who does she think I am, is what I imagine the puzzled, potentially offended, recipient saying.
      In atonement, I have studied the art and science — make that psychology — of gift giving. The big rule, I have learned, is to give a gift suitable to the character and desires of the person on the receiving end. Not some shiny odd utensil — unless it’s a Slinky, which always makes a good gift. (You see what I’m up against.)
       Does that mean you should give art to the artist? Fishing gear to the angler? Pruners, rakes and hoes to the gardener? Books to the reader?
       It ain’t necessarily so.
       Sporting Life columnist Dennis Doyle regularly warns against giving tackle to anglers. Why? Because unless you’re as expert as they are, you’re vulnerable to making a choice they’ll scorn. To that end, our beloved late Bay Gardener Dr. Francis Gouin made us a good-gardening gift list of desirable and reliable tools. 
Even if you’re an expert, however, you don’t know what another gardener has in the shed or an angler has too much or too little of. (While we’re on that subject, please don’t give my husband another fly rod. Or another pool cue.)
       Similarly, artists probably like to choose their own art. And we readers are so notoriously choosy that we often don’t know what we like ourselves.
So to find the right gift you’re going to have to go deeper. You can ask, but we all know how far that will get us. Except for kids of a certain age, who know exactly what they want, and it’s usually tangible and purchasable, you’re likely to be told that what I want is world peace.
        That, I would, if only I could. 
      It would help to be a mind reader. Not so good at that? Try being a good listener.
        The Bay Gardener was one of my rare successes in giving. He’d tell you exactly what he wanted; a couple years back, it was windshield wipers and seat belts for his 1930 Model A Ford Tudor sedan. He’d also tell you what he liked, and one of his favorite things in the world was food, including roasted cloves of garlic, seasoned with good olive oil. Gotcha! 
      Back when we had a son living in California, husband Bill and I got turned on to a couple of local olive oil producers from whom we still make ­regular orders.     Dr. G loved it, and so did his wife Clara. It wasn’t world peace, but it worked. And it avoided adding to the clutter that’s as much a burden of modern life as scarcity was in earlier times — and still is in far too many places.
       So if you’re expecting a gift from me, and if olive oil isn’t as high on your list as it was on Dr. G’s, help me out. Give me some hints I can listen to. 
      Otherwise, it’s consumables. I’ve done my canning, and I’m provisioning up for baking cookies. Cookies, I’m about convinced, are the universally desirable gift.
      All of us at Bay Weekly hope this week’s paper will inspire you this season of giving — especially if we happen to be on your lists.