I have stated here more than once my antipathy to gifts of the conventional sort. This probably has to do with the fact that we all have too much, most of all me, with my love of thrift shopping. At the thrift store, money is truly no object.
It's so hard to find a good gift. But, thanks to Miss Em's sojourn in Serbia, I am able to buy gifts that I KNOW will be just the right thing. Miss Em is in Serbia, courtesy of the Fulbright Teaching Assistant Program. We think her application was enhanced by her recounting of a family connection to Serbia, about which we, in fact, know very little. "I don't remember anything" is the response to awkward queries about the journey from Vienna to Belgrade to Boston.
Miss Em made contact with one of our few remaining connections, Ildi, the widow of my mother's first cousin George. Though Ildi is a self-described misanthropist of 80, she has taken loving care of Miss Em. Ildi lives in a decaying, once elegant house originally owned by my great-aunt Julia, whom I never met. There is but one material thing Ildi wants: she has an empty bottle of Fidji perfume, from which she takes an ecstatic whiff now and again.
Then there are others who shower Miss Em with attention and help. Even though Miss Em offers to treat her companions, she is seldom allowed to do it. She gets gifts of many sorts. One couple explained to Miss Em that--after much deliberation--they had decided to save up for a nonstick pan. Given that doctors in Serbia make around 500 euros a month and that non-stick pans cost around 50 euros, this is obviously a serious decision.
Miss Em's friend Mr C will be visiting her in December. We lent him a warm down jacket and some wool gloves (thanks to my thrifting!). He will be carrying with him a 12 inch nonstick frying pan and a big bottle of Fidji. Together, these items cost far less than 10% of my monthly--or even weekly--income.
And I've gotten a gift too. In a Skype-session with Miss Em, I got to ask Ildi some questions: when did my great-grandmother die (1959)? When did Julia die (1971)? Ildi held up some photographs of George. Miss Em has a big list of questions for Ildi to answer, so I will be getting more gifts soon, the gifts of Ildi's memories.