On this Black Friday weekend—now that I have the wisdom of 65 Thanksgivings under my belt, I know for a fact that handling the upcoming holidays is all about planning.
My wife Kathy makes lists and carefully scrutinizes every detail. She does most of her shopping before Thanksgiving, with any last-minute shopping done on Black Friday—a month before Christmas.
Me, my plan is always to go shopping on Christmas Eve. But I don’t really shop; I am a believer in the shiny object syndrome, and in the past if something caught my eye I’d just buy it, and buy it fast.
Remembering how excited my mom was when my dad bought her a revolutionary new microwave oven, I was looking for that kind of emotion when for our first married Christmas I proudly purchased the very latest Amana Radar Range microwave.
Kathy was hilariously curious about what was in the big box under the tree, until Christmas morning. I was expecting a big reaction—but got only, "Oh. A popcorn machine." And that was all she said.
When Kathy’s birthday rolled around a few months later, I flat-out asked what she wanted. She remained vague until I mentioned that she was nonplussed by her Christmas microwave.
"When I opened the box," she said, "The message to me was, Merry Christmas, here’s a microwave, now make me something to eat—fast, like a pound of bacon." I lowered my head, sorry that I’d disappointed my new wife, while also oddly craving a rasher of bacon.
To this day the only caveat I have about buying Kathy a gift is that it cannot have an electrical plug, because the last thing she said on the topic was, "Unless Hermes opens a small-appliance department—forget it!" She was kidding…I think.
Remember that book, "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus"? That was the year I realized I Was from Best Buy, Kathy Was from Bloomingdale’s.
So I turned to clothing. But women’s sizes are confusing, and not wanting to spoil the surprise by asking her for a size, I’d ask for help when I got to the store.
One Christmas Eve I was standing in a very nice store—OK, the closest store to the parking lot—and told the salesperson I liked one particular mid-calf coat. "What size is your wife?" She asked, to which I honestly said, "No idea. But she’s about your height!" She then assumed she was Kathy’s size and rooted around in the merchandise. "This should fit her perfectly!" I paid and was out of the store in six minutes.
The next morning when Kathy opened the box, "Fannnnnncy!" she said as she spotted the designer label. This was better than I imagined! Then she lifted the coat out of the box--and seemed surprised how much coat there was. It was eight sizes too big. To make a point, Kathy had two of the kids stand next to her, and she wrapped the coat around all three of them, with room to spare. Feelings hurt, Kathy avoided eye contact and seldom spoke directly to me, except through the children, until Valentine’s Day. "Tell your father Cupid is dead."
Word to shoppers—when in doubt of a person’s size, always buy small.
Our next-door neighbor, Mike, and I had the same gift trajectory during his early days of marriage. He, too, loved practical gifts and had presented his wife, Judy, a wide array of Rubbermaid or Tupperware food storage containers and totes. His wife always used them, but it’s not like she’d brag to her friends, "When you close the top, you don’t have to burp out the air!"
That all changed when Mike formulated a game plan weeks earlier and wound up hitting a jewelry shop on the upper level of our local mall. Even though it was Christmastime, he was in and out in less than fifteen minutes. When Judy opened up the little jewel box, she paused a moment, and blurted out, "I love this! I love you!" To mark their twentieth anniversary, he’d gotten her a very pricey and dazzling diamond and sapphire ring.
I thought I’d never hear the end of it from Kathy. "I wonder what Mike would buy me for my birthday?" She’d taunt me, "Oh, I know—jewelry!"
For me and the other husbands in our neighborhood, it was not easy living next door to the husband of the year. Judy was over the moon and proudly wore her ring constantly, reminding everybody of how thoughtful, kind, and wonderful her husband was.
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One year later, when Christmas rolled around, the entire neighborhood was all curious how Mike would surpass the last incredible gift. Christmas morning, he presented Judy with a small bag from the same jewelry store as the year before. Judy could not believe her good luck--who says lightning can’t strike twice? Inside, another velvet black box—just as the year before. Opening it quickly, she locked eyes with a stunning ring that took her breath away.
Positively dazzling and very expensive—just like the one the year before. In fact, it was exactly like the diamond and sapphire number he’d given her one year earlier.
Thinking this was a practical joke—that he’d boxed up last year’s ring and re-gifted it—Judy looked down at her hand, and there was the same ring from last year. Suddenly she had two.
Judy shook her head in disbelief. The next day Mike had to do what I’d done many times before--he returned the gift to the store, explaining to the manager, "It looked familiar."
After being married for 36+ years, my Christmas gift-giving plan is now unbelievably simple, because Kathy buys gifts for all the kids (from both of us)—I have to buy gifts for only one person: Kathy. In November our youngest daughter Sally will start asking me what I think her mother wants.
She’ll also look at what’s out there and make a note of ideas from what Kathy says in their daily phone chats. Sally is very organized, like Kathy— which is why about ten years ago I deputized Sally to order all of Kathy’s gifts. She ships them to our house and then discreetly adjourns to her bedroom, where she wraps them all.
Then, on Christmas morning, I simply smile and nod as Kathy gleefully opens the gifts, which are technically from me—although as she opens them, it’s often the first time I’ve ever laid eyes on them.
I love Christmas!
Happy shopping. If you’re lucky, you have a Sally, too—she’s a gift!
Adapted from the exclusive Walmart edition of Steve & Kathy Doocy’s new book, "The Simply Happy Cookbook." To get your copy click here. Used with permission of William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. All rights reserved.