Present Company

By Sandy Burgham

present company

My nearest and dearest have been under strict instructions not to buy me “things” for birthday and Christmas gifts. I have been divesting myself of possessions, and generally de-cluttering, for nearly two years now, and I don’t need replacement products. A recent birthday was an amusing case study on how well they have complied to requests. I don’t need anything, which is absolutely true, but that doesn’t mean of course that they should pass on my birthday altogether.


I dropped hints that I like consumables and experiences — edibles, drinkables, burnables, watchables — how hard could it be? Friends got it down pat – wine, wine with bubbles in it, posh chocolate, books with feminist themes – preferably all to be consumed at once. The kids also passed muster. The 16-year-old boy wrote an eloquent card about my strong points as a mother/person (a nice change), before presenting a very well-articulated case as to why no actual present would be forthcoming. (Something to do with money from his part-time job being for his own needs. Hmmm). Anyway, there were no spelling mistakes in the card.


The 21-year old daughter drew a beautiful picture of a Taurean bull, and then inside the card, offered her services as a housekeeper and assistant when I’m “overwhelmed”. She knows me too well. Interestingly, she offered these services to be capped at a total of six times, and trust me, she’ll be counting. I’ve already cashed in one, and she saved me an hour and a half of pfaffing about, which was invaluable, so she gets a thumbs up.


My middle sister, the master gift giver, made an art form out of my hints, and presented me with a hamper of delicious treats, spanning every meal of the day. I quickly designated this “my food”, and pardon the immaturity, but have hidden some from the family. There’s little worse than wanting your special muesli than to find the packet open but empty on the shelf.


But my big sister refuses to get with the programme, and tried to pre-sell a gift on the basis that “you’re going to love it”. “Oh no”, I groaned ungraciously — “I bet it’s brown or green (her preferred colour palette) and probably wood (her favoured material)”. She admitted that deep down she knew I wouldn’t want it, but she wanted to convince me to want it and love it, because she does. She is known in the family for wanting to share her love of certain items so much, she will buy things in twos so she can give one away, therefore reinforcing her own joy. Ironically, one of those gifts last year was a book about de-cluttering. But this year’s Japanese tray — brown, wooden — with rope handles will have to be given to someone else. Try the middle sister I said, who overheard, and responded, “No thanks, I don’t want it either”.


But possibly the gift that made me most uneasy was my husband’s. Because I’ve lectured him on not spending money and not buying me stuff, he used his highly-creative imagination and created fur underwear out of rabbits that he had shot, and cured. I thought it was a joke, until he told me he’d made a bikini top too, but the dog ate it (true story, she passed black, furry gooey stuff for days). Hence it was with some trepidation that I opened a second gift from him. A massage voucher! Great! But when I grabbed my reading glasses, I realised it was a couple’s massage. Okaaaaay. Then in the fine print – it’s at a place where we can apparently stay the night too (I hope my kids aren’t reading this).


The reactions of my partnered, same-age girlfriends were interesting and ran along the lines of “Oh god, no”, “Just tell him you want to go alone, with a good book”, “I bet it’s a tantric sex place, you poor thing”. My single friends were more in the “Wow, that’s so sweet” and “Good on you, you’ve still got it,” camp. I really could write a thesis on this!


As it turned out, the best present was the day itself. Breakfast with my bestie, lunch with my husband — no rabbit fur involved — and dinner with our little family of four. You can’t tie happiness up with a bow, but just being with the people I love most felt like the only gift you need.

— Sandy Burgham


This post first appeared in The Hobson June, 2017


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