When I was fourteen years old my parents gave me an all-black Fender acoustic guitar for Christmas. And I mean all-black: black neck, black headstock, black pick guard.
I had asked specifically for the thing, going so far as to bring my mother down to the music store to point it out to her.
It hung behind the counter among other, more traditional looking wood-tone acoustic guitars. The price tag tucked between the strings read $220, a whopping fortune.
I never thought for a moment that she would buy it for me.
My parents weren’t rolling in dough, not then, not ever. This would have been 1987. They’d gone all in a few years earlier on a bar where my father, a lifelong teacher and social worker, used to moonlight. I’d join him there on Saturday mornings to mop the floors, clean the bathrooms, and break up cardboard boxes for $5.
The thought of waiting 44 Saturdays to save up the money for that guitar—not to mention the likelihood of wasting it all on movies, soda, and cassette tapes in the meantime—convinced me that I’d never get my hands on that Black Beauty.
But I did. She bought it for me sure enough. On Christmas morning she wrapped it in an old garment bag stuffed with newspapers.
Receiving that thing gave me such joy that it has caused all the other birthday and Christmas gifts I’ve been given throughout the years to fade in memory.
I’ve dragged that thing with me from coast-to-coast. If I were to take inventory of all the stuff that surrounds me right now—every little doo-dad and thingamijiggy that I own—that guitar surely boasts the longest service in my employ.
My mother is gone now, but I still have that guitar. I don’t play it much, but when I do, I think of her. I think of that clear, bright Christmas morning twenty-five years ago. I can see how happy it made my mother to give me that gift.
It makes me feel better about the deficit spending that we do on our own kids now at Christmas. They won’t remember most of the gifts they receive in a few weeks. But they may get a glimpse into how much joy we got out of giving them. Hopefully, they’ll remember that.
They say it’s better to give than to receive, but I’m pretty selfish so I’ve always had a hard time with this. I understand now just how meaningful a gift can be for the giver.