Annie Gray’s Diary

’Tis the Season!

In merry search for the worst best present

By Annie Gray Sprunt

I embrace the saying “Your presence is the only present I need.”

Being on the receiving end of presents has always been uncomfortable for me. It might have started the Christmas of 1990 — allow me to digress and confess — I was “the type.” Which means I was the type of girl who wanted nothing more than to be a bride. I’m not proud but I’m honest. I wanted to pick out china and have dinner parties. Sadly, I had no career aspirations or lofty ambitions. My spirit animal was Donna Reed; in hindsight, it should have been Mary Tyler Moore.

It was Christmas Eve and I was under the delusion that I was getting an engagement ring from my beau. Fingernails polished (Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow), hairdo done, with my much-rehearsed feigning surprise act ready to go . . . but alas, no ring. (You might ask what the present was instead of a ring: new floor mats for my car and a keychain.) He did put a ring on my finger the following week, but the Christmas trauma train had left the station.

I should have been conditioned throughout my life. My mother is fabulous and delightful in ways too numerous to count, but gift-giving has never been her strong suit, despite the fact she spends the entire year shopping for Christmas presents. Let’s just say that her gifts have been “regifted” more than once. For example, the winking Santa felt appliqué toilet lid cover was regifted, posthaste, as was the Nativity crèche with the characters dressed in patriotic Fourth of July costumes. Seriously. When my daughter moved to San Diego, my mother graciously wanted to give her a going-away present . . . which was . . . an umbrella. Very thoughtful, if you are moving to Seattle or London, but let’s just say Jim Cantore doesn’t spend much time in the sunny climes of San Diego.

I’m not saying my mother isn’t generous; she most certainly is. Once she asked if I knew of anyone who might want my dearly departed father’s old underpants. I kid you not. If an item is on sale, it’s her catnip. The steeper the discount, the more she wants it. It might not be anything that you want, not your size or your color, but if its 95 percent off, she’s going to get it. Essentially, if everyone in New Hanover County passed it up on the clearance sale rack, it is going to be wrapped up and under her Christmas tree, ready to go. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bargain, but there might be a reason it’s on the clearance sale rack.

It was 1986 and the “it” toy was Corky, the talking doll with red curly hair. Corky had a pre-programmed cassette installed in its back that played syrupy sweet Corky-talk. For some unknown reason, my Aunt Virginia wanted one for Christmas. Her husband, Uncle Raymond, was the grand poobah of practical jokes. He did indeed grant his wife’s wish for a Corky doll, but recruited his prankstery friend Lem to record over the Corky message with profanity-laced vitriol that would even make the current administration blush.

So as an homage to our mothers, my cousin Virginia and I compete each year for who can win at giving the BEST WORST Christmas present. The search begins the day after Christmas, and the competition is brutal. She is great at finding cocktail napkins or dishtowels with pithy remarks, like “I like to give homemade gifts for Christmas, which child would you like?”

Last year, I won! I searched high and low to find the BEST WORST present and lo and behold, I found Shave and Play Barbie. I’m sure it was a counterfeit Barbie but Barbie-ish nonetheless. She was resplendently covered in a full beard and caveman-like body fur. (Envision a voluptuous Sasquatch.) Faux Barbie came complete with a Barbie-size bubble gum-colored pink razor. (Faux Barbie styptic pencil not included.)

I’m not a complete nimrod about receiving gifts, I would never refuse a kidney if I ever needed one because that would be just plain rude. And I would graciously accept, with pleasure, a lovely bottle of Sancerre. Yes, I do know that it is the thought that counts, so save your hard-earned money for a gag gift for your cousin, and when it comes to me, no gifts — please!

Annie Gray Sprunt is a lifelong Wilmingtonian, award-winning mother, and self-deprecating bon vivant.

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