Gifts you can afford

Friday, December 24, 2004

The best gifts are all around us.

Take a look.

Whatever the occasion -- Christmas, birthday, anniversary -- there is an amazing selection.

In case you've arrived at Christmas Eve with some names still not crossed off your list, don't fret. And don't worry about your checking account or your credit-card limits.

While the gifts I'm talking about don't cost a dime, they have a precious value.

Read on and see if you agree.

* There's the gift of affection. It fits all sizes and all ages. I like it best when I see an older couple out in public holding hands. Or hubby leans over and gives his wife a peck on her powdered cheek -- right there in front of God and everyone.

Unabashed affection weighs more than pure gold. If you don't believe me, get some scales and see for yourself. Weigh a bushel basket of gold. Then weigh a bushel basket of affection.

See? What did I tell you?

* Another great gift is nobility: "Having or showing high moral qualities or ideals, or greatness of character."

Each of us can name someone who, at some point in our lives, performed a noble deed or made a noble decision or acted nobly.

The lessons we learned from these noble individuals are invaluable. There is no price tag.

There is a payback, however. It is our obligation to rise to our own level of nobility.

* One of my favorite gifts is kindness. It overwhelms me at times to know that so many individuals have kind hearts.

Just before Christmas 1978, my family moved to Maryville, Mo., where I was to take up new duties at the newspaper. Our furniture arrived during a Northwest Missouri blizzard, which is, in reality, a Nebraska blizzard gone astray. After a long day of moving in, we settled among the unopened boxes and prepared for our first night in our new home.

The doorbell rang. Who would be out on a night like this?

Standing at the front door was Leola Swaney, the tiny woman who had been the newspaper's "society editor" for more than 40 years. She was holding an immense pan of gooey, nutty monkey bread still warm from the oven.

"I just had to bring something to welcome you to town," said Leola, who stood all of 4 feet, 6 inches tall, whose hair looked like she had just come from the beauty parlor and who was wearing high heels -- she was, after all, out in public -- encased in clear plastic snow boots.

Leola Swaney's kindnesses went on and on. One time she and her husband, Lester, learned their neighbors and longtime friends were in failing health and might not be able to take another vacation. So Leola and Lester bundled them up, got them into their car and took off.

When they got back, I asked Leola where they went.

"Nova Scotia," she said without batting an eye, like it was as easy as a trip to the supermarket. "They always wanted to go."

* As important a gift as kindness is politeness. Being polite, I think my mother would say, is being kind to someone you don't particularly like.

A good friend, Mary Jackson, used to come to our house for dinner, which might include one of my wife's new recipes. She would take a bite and murmur sweetly, "This is so interesting." We still don't know to this day if Mary liked what she ate. But she was far too polite to let us think anything else.

There are more gifts. Lots more. Now that the list is started, why don't you see what you can add?

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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