The Best Christmas Presents

Santa didn’t bring me the “Big Rig” alarm clock that was at the top of my Christmas list. But that’s okay. Since Christmas is supposed to be more about giving than receiving, I’d rather focus on the best present I gave this year.

Which requires going back in time to the summer of 1962.

My mother stood in the cramped kitchen of our rented split-level house with her face in her hands. Weeping. “What’s the matter now?” Daddy asked, knowing full well that the matter was that his job had forced our family, who had never lived on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon Line, to move to New York. Where people made fun of the way we talked. Where grocery stores stocked grits in the foreign food aisle, if they stocked them at all. Where our neighbors couldn’t understand why we were completely uninterested in choosing between the Yankees or the newly-hatched New York Mets.

Our furnished rental house on Long Island was, to put it mildly, not to Mother’s liking. The mattresses sagged. The couch was lumpy. The drapes were ugly. Worst of all was the kitchen, whose real owner obviously didn’t cook the way Mother did. No flour sifter. No cast iron skillet. No industrial strength grater for fixing her famous homemade pimento cheese.
But that’s not why she was crying. “I’ve been through every drawer in this kitchen a hundred times and can’t find a single iced tea spoon,” she wailed.

Now Daddy understood. Without iced tea spoons, how could you scrape the last smidgen of Duke’s Mayonnaise (“the secret of Southern cooks”) out of the bottom of the jar? If, indeed, you could purchase Duke’s Mayonnaise. Or retrieve a Coca-Cola bottle cap that had been accidentally flipped into the garbage disposal? Or fish around the murky juice in the olive jar to see if there might be one more olive left? Not to mention stir fresh-squeezed lemon juice into a tall glass of home-brewed sweet tea.

A house without iced tea spoons really wasn’t fit to live in.

“Get in the car,” he told my brother and me. “We’re going to town.” If you picture New York City in the early 1960s as a shopping mecca, you picture it wrong. At least when it came to finding iced tea spoons. Most of the store clerks couldn’t even understand what Daddy was asking for, perhaps because he didn’t pronounce “ice” the way they did. Even those who understood him seemed perplexed about the notion of putting ice in tea, or why anyone would feel the need to stir it after doing so.

Finally, in the picnic section of a hole-in-the-wall corner market, we found a dusty cardboard box that held a handful of sturdy plastic iced tea spoons. Victory! Those spoons got us by for eighteen long months, until we moved back to the south and were reunited with our stuff.

Meaning that there’s never really been a time in my life when I had to function without iced tea spoons. Thank goodness. Imagine, then, my shock upon discovering that neither of my grown-up daughters nor my daughter-in-law had a single iced tea spoon in their otherwise well-stocked kitchens. How did they manage? When I asked how they scraped the bottom of a deep jar or fished a bottle cap out of the sink or stirred lemon into their sweet tea, the three of them just shrugged.

So Mrs. Santa went into action.

Online, she found a set of a dozen heavyweight stainless steel iced tea spoons in a neutral pattern for $17.99 and immediately hit the BUY NOW button. When they arrived, she divided the spoons, tied a red ribbon around each set of four, and slipped them into the appropriate Christmas stocking.

I’m certain that Mrs. Santa’s mother was smiling down in sweet satisfaction when those girls opened their best Christmas presents of 2012.

(December 30, 2012.)

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