Page 28 - Scene Magazine 45-12 December 2020
P. 28

  A True Story By Jill Settineri
The Gift of the Gag
      I do not know precisely when it started, but I certainly remember where is started. It started in a knotty pine paneled living room in my grandmother’s white house, situated on a snowy forty acres with pine trees and hills in northern Mich- igan. As the story goes, my mother and her two sisters found a box of packed away and long forgotten trinkets in my grandmother’s attic. Family legend holds that these trinkets came from a distant relative who would occasionally, but regu- larly, send small gifts to my grandmother. Perhaps the relative thought my grand- mother, living in rural northern Michigan, might not have access to certain home décor options or creature comforts. While the trinkets were thoughtful, they were in no way relevant to my grandmother who lived frugally, valued function, and found joy in simplicity. She just simply was not wired to find enjoyment in objects. I am sure she was gracious in her accep- tance of the gifts, but would undoubtedly quickly store them away in her attic. I do not know how embellished the contents of this box had become over the years, but reportedly, it contained plastic flower vases, a ribbon keeper, a green bean slic- er, a fancy potato peeler, hair nets, a pair of long underwear, hair cream, cosmetic brightening powder, and cake mascara, just to name a few.
Being a trio of women who loved games, a good riddle, and who were blessed with the ability to find joy in
simple things, my mother and her sisters quickly launched a plan. They wrapped these treasures up with used wrapping paper that had been carefully ironed, fold- ed and housed next to this box of trinkets in the attic. When the time came for ex- changing gifts with the rest of the family, these carefully wrapped attic treasures were presented as gag gifts. There were many laughs and stories, many imagined scenarios and possible explanations for these long forgotten items and just like that, the gag gift tradition was born.
In the following years, my older cousins became willing participants. They would wrap up items whose novelty had worn off or things they had simply aged out of and present them to my siblings and I. We adored these older cousins and anything they passed along to us was fabulous, simply because it had come from them. One year I received a six inch penny that a local bank had handed out as a customer appreciation trinket. I am 47 years old
and I still have that penny. One year my grandmother was presented with a box that appeared to have a living animal inside. A pet was the last thing my grand- mother wanted and even a child could read the apprehension in her face and feel the pulse of tension in the room. When she carefully opened the box there was indeed a cat inside, or rather, a potholder in the shape of a cat. My grandmother’s relief was palpable. My older cousin eventually invented the marvelous role of
“Gag Queen,” complete with a tinfoil tiara and homemade glitter sash. He crowned the first year’s recipient and every year after that the reigning queen would decide who to crown next. Obviously, these gifts and events were not remarkable, but they were memorable.
There were real presents too, and they were always exciting and appreciated, but I would be hard pressed to name one of them today. I’m sure there were prob- ably baby dolls and board games, and as I got older probably clothes. My brother would have received a sports item or something mechanical and my sister being the youngest would most cer- tainly have received a toy of some kind. Amongst the adults, I know there were books, scarves, cozy sweaters, tools, and handy gadgets, but can I specifically remember any of these? No, not really. It was the gag gifts that everyone looked forward to the most and the ones we still remember today. They were the most
fun to give and definitely the most fun to receive. The real gifts were like the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. The cher- ry is fun, but by itself, not very satisfying.
When it was finally time to exchange gifts after Christmas dinner and kitchen cleanup, which seemed to go on forever, we would collect whatever chairs were needed and gather in the knotty pine encased living room. Sitting on the floor was my preferred location, it was easier to move around the room that way, easier

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