Much like freckles, receding hairlines, and a tendency to forget names, one of the traits passed on to successive generations of the Finlay family is that of the art of giving awful gifts. Its almost syphilitic pervasion through the generations of my family fascinates and terrifies me. Like a werewolf awaiting the ascension of the full moon, come Christmas time I wander lonely through the shops each year hoping I haven’t fallen victim to the Finlay family curse. Looking back at the awkwardness caused by my elders’ choices of gifts, I don’t think I have it as bad as they do.
Notorious among the Finlay clan for her skill in choosing ill-advised gifts is our reigning matriarch, my grandmother. The fact she purchased a DVD player four years ago shows that she is clearly out of touch with other areas of life. Namely, any kind of modern style and fashion. One memorable Christmas she bought for my mother, her daughter-in-law, a pair of nylon zebra-stripe tights. The kind that would make Anna Wintour vomit blood. ‘Abject horror.’ Those are the only words that describe the sensation around the gift-giving circle when this particular present was unwrapped. Everyone in the room stared at the offending garments precisely in the way that one stares at a car accident on a motorway. My aunt hissed in my grandmother’s ear ‘Where on earth is she going to wear those?’. My grandmother frankly explained that she assumed that my mother could wear them when she was ‘out on the town’. She never elaborated on what she meant by this but whatever attention my grandmother thought my mother would draw because of the safari-themed leggings, I’m sure it was not the kind she wished to attract.
Many years later the two women clashed once more in the pit of the gift-giving circle. Hoping against hope for a gift she actually wanted, or at least one she could pawn off to another relative next year, my mother gritted her teeth as she opened her present from her mother-in-law. As the paper was ripped away from the gift it disguised, her eyes focused on a single word. In a nervous squeak reminiscent of a guinea pig under extreme duress she let out a gasp and said ‘Poison?!’. Advertised by its creators at Dior as a ‘fragrance of mysterious depth that asserts daring and fatal seduction’, one must again question what kind of woman my grandmother thought my mother was. Although this time the gift was accepted graciously, the recipient of it swiftly became convinced due to the unfortunate name of the product that its donor was plotting to murder her. To this day she has not been able to shake off this suspicion and opens each present from Granny with the fear that it will be the last one she ever opens.
Knowing your loved ones and knowing them well, avoids the quandary of mistaking your daughter-in-law for a prostitute or serial seductress. But my mother doesn’t appear to have learned from her own experiences. Knowing full well that her husband wished for nothing more than his own pet cat in Christmas of 2014, without telling anyone, she bought him a pet dog. Even five year olds know that cats and dogs are fundamental opposites. Not so with my grandmother.
Learn from these parables. Do not underestimate the effect of a poorly chosen gift. As you deliberate buying a pair of slippers or a scarf for your mother, make sure to remember that although they love you, no one holds grudges like your family do.