Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sock it To Me

Whether or not there are greater rewards for giving than receiving, I was happy to spend some time and money shopping with my wife for gifts for family and friends, and giving to people less fortunate than I am. Our big shopping expedition took us to REI, the outdoor store. Among other items, we bought some socks for our daughter. There was a special on socks, so I bought myself a pair of bike socks, too. I can never have enough bike socks. 

It's always difficult to decide what to give my brother. This year, I decided to give him a subscription to a new bike magazine. On the way back from REI, though, my wife and I decided Dan might need something a little more tactile to enjoy on Christmas, since his first copy of the magazine wouldn't arrive for a while. At first I thought I'd give him my pair of bike socks. 

Then Kathy and I decided Dan needed at least two pairs of socks. So later in the week, I headed over to a little bike shop I like. The guys there have been good to me (as have all the people at all the little bike shops I visit on occasion). I bought two pairs of socks, and when I got home, even though I liked and wanted the socks I'd purchased for myself, I decided to give them to Dan, too.

On Christmas Eve, I headed over to one of our favorite restaurants, Bloom, to pick up a take-out order for my visiting daughter and son-in-law. On the way home, I stopped in at the 7-11, to pick up a six pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and six pack of Fat Tire beer. After dropping off lunch and the pale ale, I visited the bike shop where I'd purchased the socks for my brother, and dropped off the Fat Tire beer. I was happy to bring the guys a gift I knew they would like. 

When I spied boxes of two seasonal varieties of Clif Bars, gingerbread and pumpkin, in the shop, I decided to spend a little more money. However, and despite my protestations, I walked out of the shop with the gift of several Clif Bars. 

In late afternoon, I headed over to a small take-out on tony Beverly Blvd, with its fancy restaurants and shops. An exception is China Kitchen, just east of the massive Beverly Center and Beverly Connection shopping malls; it isn't fancy. There's enough room for the counter, two small tables and four chairs. The order phone seems to constantly ring off the hook, and the invisible kitchen is always noisy with confabulations in Cantonese. 

Long ago, my parents had sponsored the emigration of the owners of the China Kitchen, whom they met on a trip to Hong Kong. Their friends eventually settled in Los Angeles. I have no idea how the two couples met. I do know that my parents were never forgotten by the owners of China Kitchen. For years, they supplied my parents with food for our family's Christmas Eve dinner. 

Since my parents came from different religious backgrounds, we'd celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah, with a Christmas tree in a corner of the living room, a menorah atop on the baby grand piano. That wonderful Chinese dinner each year was a perfect compliment to our diverse festivities.

My parents departed the scene some time ago. The tradition of Christmas Eve lives on, though, as my wife and I have always decorated our own home with a tree and a menorah. We enjoy Chinese food for dinner, too. As it happens, China Kitchen isn't far from my own home, and so it's easy to visit my parents' old friends on Christmas Eve. My parents' old friends are always are glad to see me, as I am to see them. We are the links to each others' pasts. 

There were hellos and hugs. We caught up on what was happening with our families. Ordering took a while, though, because the phone kept ringing off the proverbial hook.  

This year, I fibbed a little, telling my parent's friends that I needed a couple of dishes, and some brown rice, for my wife and myself. I didn't mention that my younger daughter was busy at my home, preparing a six-person feast, for Kathy and me, for my daughter Rebecca and my son-in-law Lee, and Nora's boyfriend, Kevin. Of course, as the proxy for my parents, I wasn't allowed to pay for what I ordered.

The plan hatched at home was to give the food I picked up to any homeless person or persons I spotted on the short drive back from China Kitchen. Failing that, Kathy and I and Rebecca and Lee would share the shrimp and lo mein dishes for lunch on Christmas Day. 

On the way home, a man I often see sprawled on the sidewalk on Beverly Blvd., who I knew was a likely candidate, was missing. I didn't spot anyone else who looked like they needed food. I brought the three cartons home. 

The food was still hot, so I left the cartons on a kitchen counter. While the kids worked and talked in the kitchen, Kathy and I sat in the living room. When I walked into the kitchen a little later, the shrimp had gone missing, along with most of the beef and chicken from the lo mein carton. I was completely irritated. There went my next day's lunch! 

Then I thought about those homeless people I hadn't found. I thought about the wonderful Christmas Eve dinner we'd be sharing in another hour or so. I thought about my parents, who wouldn't be with us, of how generous they had been in their lives, giving much of what they had (despite my mom's hoarding proclivities) to others. Soon I wasn't annoyed.

We did have a wonderful dinner that night. My family and I had a terrific Christmas morning, too, exchanging gifts. After we'd cleaned up the house, making it ready for the arrival of my brother and his family for another holiday dinner, I had time to hop on my bike for an afternoon ride. The day was warm in the sun, and cool in the shade as I headed up into the little canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains north of our home. Pedaling along Beverly Blvd., I saw the homeless man asleep on the sidewalk. 

Before returning home, I cycled up a thousand feet, looking out over the city on a day when the temperature reached the mid-70s, and I could look out to downtown one way, and out to the Pacific Ocean the other, it's waters glinting in the afternoon light.

That evening, my parents weren't with us, of course. Yet I did feel linked to them again, through another wonderful Christmas dinner – prime rib, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes – that  Kathy and Rebecca and Nora prepared. Susan, my sister-in-la, made kugal, a kind of noodle pudding, to which I think I'm addicted. Not many people out of all the people in the world ate as well as we did.

When it came time to exchange gifts, my brother opened his. From me came the card telling him about his magazine subscription, and then his three pairs of socks. 

Then I opened the two packages Dan had for me. One was a book about Los Angeles then and now. It was filled with photographs of places as they appeared in the late 1800s and the early years of the 20th century, and as they appear in the 21st century. 

The other package I opened contained three pairs of bike socks. Proving, I suppose, either great minds think alike or that we don't have a lot of creativity to share between us. 

Of course, Dan and I hadn't sacrificed anything, yet we were reminded a little of the classic O'Henry Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi, with our sock story the reverse of the original. 

I know it's difficult to act as saintly as possible all year, to sacrifice all year, and not just during the holiday season. We can't give everything we have away, we can't go barefoot all the time, we have to balance what we need with that which we can afford to give. 

This coming new year, every time I pull on a pair of bike socks, every time I munch a Clif Bar, or eat Chinese food, I'm going to think about giving back some of what I've been blessed to receive in my own life. And in so doing, perhaps I will – like riding my bike – find the balance.


Richard said...

Consumables! That's the watch word. And my own theory of Christmas giving, Dave. Hard to go wrong with Clif bars - I gave my friends a box 'o choc chip Clif's as well. And got bike socks, for which I was very grateful. Yes, great minds think alike. Now, why did you stop following me?!!

Bob Kidd said...

Dave - here's to a prosperous and balanced New Year!