Gifts Are For Giving by
(303 Stories)

Prompted By Gifts

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I am not an easy person to buy presents for. I know that, and I discourage family members from buying me things. Because I hardly ever like them. They will invariably be the wrong color, or the wrong size, or the wrong shape, or just not something that is useful to me. Even jewelry, I generally find myself wanting to exchange for something different. I realize one way people avoid this problem is to give each other specific lists of what they want. But to me, if I were to ask for something, and then receive it all wrapped up on a birthday or Chanukah, it wouldn’t really feel like a gift, it would feel like they just did an errand for me, like grocery shopping. A good gift has to be a surprise, and that’s why it’s such a problem.

I confess that I don’t have any specific memories about gifts in my childhood. It is easier to buy presents for children, because they are excited about practically everything, and they don’t have well-formed opinions about what they like or don’t. Toys and books and even clothes are generally well-received by kids. I know that was true when I bought presents for my own children, and I’m sure that was true of me as a child as well.

The best gift I ever got as an adult was a complete surprise, and was something I didn’t even know I wanted until I got it. A karaoke machine. It was so much fun to sing karaoke in our living room! The machine came with a couple of discs, and then we bought a few more, so we had a wide variety of songs to choose from. We used it frequently . . . until fate intervened.

My son Ben was in the marching band at his high school, and every year they had a playathon to raise money for the band. They stayed at school for 24 hours on a Friday-Saturday, starting at the end of the school day, and performed music non-stop during that time. Of course they didn’t all perform the whole time, they had a concert with everyone playing on Friday evening, and then took turns in dribs and drabs all night and the next morning. When they weren’t performing, they were playing cards or goofing off, or in some cases even sleeping. Senior year Ben decided to take the karaoke machine, because he thought that would be a fun thing to do in their off time. We loaded up the machine and the discs in the car and took it over to him when school ended. A bunch of them used it during the night and had a blast.

When it was time to come home on Saturday, he gathered up the machine and the CD cases, along with his sleeping bag, backpack, instrument, and everything else, and brought it all home. We put the machine away in the closet. The next time we went to use it, which was probably weeks or even months later, we discovered that all of the CD cases were empty. The discs had disappeared. Ben looked for them at school, and asked all the other band kids if anyone had them, but they were nowhere to be found. For some reason we resisted buying new discs, because we were so sure the old ones would turn up. And then more and more time passed, and we never used the karaoke machine again.

However, writing this story has inspired me to look for it, and to buy some new karaoke CDs if they still make them. And when I do, you are all invited to a karaoke party at my house!

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I totally understand about getting (or not getting) gifts that you want. At various points in our married life both my husband and I have just told each other what to get for the other. Lately, my husband has given and just said, “This will be your birthday present”, and it was whatever nice thing was purchased within the past few months, which sort of feels like cheating.

    The karaoke machine does sound like loads of fun and it is too bad that the CDs disappeared. I hope you can buy some new ones. I went to one party where everyone was singing, but somehow, my voice doesn’t lend itself to the songs that were on the machine and I took a pass (I don’t do country well). But I suspect you and I could have fun together.

    • Suzy says:

      I don’t do country at all. The CDs we had were 60s and 70s rock/pop, Broadway, and kids’ tunes. I probably wouldn’t get the kids’ tunes again, but I’m sure you could find something to your liking in the other categories.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I loved your great honesty about your relationship with gifts, Suzy. I like to think I’m the same, but I’m still a little kid. And, thanks to you, I now realize that you have it exactly right: a good gift has to be a surprise.

    That is a really bittersweet story about the karaoke machine. I am very glad that it may get a renaissance. I can assure you that they still have karaoke CD’s, even if they euphemistically just call them “instrumentals.” I recently downloaded an “instrumental” of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Good” which I used as back up while singing a lyrical variation of it I wrote for a pal’s birthday party. (No; I wasn’t singing about myself; he is named Jon.) The lyrics were funnier but the singing was awful.

    • Suzy says:

      I would have loved to see your Johnny B. Good rendition, John. But instrumentals aren’t the same as karaoke CDs, because for karaoke they show the words on the screen as you sing them. Luckily, a little bit of internet research shows that they do still exist, I’m happy to say.

  3. John Zussman says:

    I love the fact that the karaoke machine was so perfect you shared it—and that led to its demise as something usable. I think I would attend that party if you found new discs (or an Internet-connected machine), and you know that’s not my natural response!

    However, I must disagree with you that kids are excited by all kinds of gifts, including clothes. When I was a kid, all I wanted was toys and books. Clothes? You must be kidding!

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, I love it that you would come to my karaoke party, John. Maybe we can get Betsy and Charlie and Risa and . . . .? I see a Retrospect reunion in our future!

      You’re right about clothes not being exciting for young kids. I guess I was thinking about teenagers, and specifically teenage daughters, when I wrote that.

  4. What a great idea for a reunion! A karaoke party. That’ll separate the writers from the singers! I can picture all these ‘played out’ kids noodling to the finish line on Saturday afternoon.

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