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Life Notes: The Gift Rift
A Husband. A Birthday. A Reflection.
By Sally Friedman

I married a Libra. An October baby. While I wasn’t into that astrology stuff, I did wonder about what Libras might like on their birthdays. 

But since there was no internet back in those antediluvian days, I remember actually going to get help from one of those super-smart librarians at the grand Logan Square Library in Philadelphia. Together, she and I pondered what we could learn about Libras, specifically the one who had been my husband for just four months. 

I agonized over what gift to get for Victor, who seemed addicted to several things about which I knew almost nothing: law and the courts, cars, and farms like the one he grew up on. 

I sought advice about the perfect gift from my friends, the neighbor next door to us in our first house and my father, since he was, after all, a man. 

Since I was one of the first of my gang to get married, my newly minted college graduate pals offered little. The next door neighbor suggested a set of tools. And my father wrote down the name of an esoteric law book. 

By the weekend before his birthday, I had what I thought was an inspired idea. 

I went to the fanciest men’s store I could find and headed straight to the necktie counter. I deliberated for what seemed like hours, checking my watch obsessively because we only had one car and Vic needed it the same afternoon. Finally, I settled on three ties, being careful to choose what I thought were fabulous colors and patterns. You may see what’s coming. 

On his birthday, I couldn’t wait while Vic opened the gift box I had paid an extra dollar for and made his way through the layers of tissue paper. He studied each tie, trying valiantly to look if not delighted, at least pleased. That effort failed. Seems I had chosen my vision of my new husband, but not his.  

But I’m a slow study, and there would be more reckonings about our gifting compatibility. Little did I know that this gift-rift also happens in the best of marriages.  

I have loved some of the necklaces and bracelets he has presented to me on my December birthdays through the years. I have buried other of his well-meaning gestures: scarves that reach my knees, jaunty little hats because he knows that my ears are always freezing and an attempt at lingerie. It was presented three sizes larger than I am because the saleslady had asked flustered Vic to point to a woman around my size. 

Our gifting history has changed through the decades, and frankly, has gotten less romantic and far more sensible. We’re not yet giving one another vacuum cleaners or car wash coupons, but we can now joke and tease and laugh till our sides hurt about our good intentions run amok. 

As we’ve journeyed together through the decades, we’ve realized that gifts need to be more daily than annual and more meaningful than extravagant. 

We are now at the stage of life where painful goodbyes are frequent, and there is truly nothing we need. But with one exception. My husband’s birthday this year begins with an 8. Yes, an 8. 

Those kids who once bought one another ties and necklaces now concentrate on things far less tangible. We have been through every imaginable emotion by now, and we understand that the love between a man and a woman can be ragged, cranky, imperfect and sometimes misunderstood. 

But trust me, if you’re lucky, you also find out that old marrieds have been through the pressures of ordinary life – and extraordinary life too. We get that marriage can be so tough – and so absolutely worth it. 

So on my husband’s October birthday, I’ll find some kind of present – probably a book he may or may not read – and there will be a silly poem and also a serious note that will make me cry as I read it to him. Maybe that’s because each birthday now is part-scary, part-celebratory and altogether a gift in itself. 

There absolutely will be chocolate pudding – the slow-cooked kind – and the noodle pudding he loves. 

My Libra grows older, so does his Sagittarius. And the best gift we can give one another is…more. More years. More gratitude. And yes, if you’ll forgive this utterly corny concept, more and more love. That’s the ultimate gift for my 80-something guy. 

October 2018
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