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Let Us Remember That Presents Can Be Awesome, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:57am

My Aunt L., she of the recent 80th birthday and head prefect of Sturdy Gal Academy, gives all her adult nieces and nephews Christmas presents. I will point out, there are a lot of us. Win had 4 daughters, my mother 3 daughters and 1 son. But every year Aunt L. wraps and delivers to everybody.

The best present she ever gave, which, in retrospect, may be one of the best ever given or received in my family, was a net bag of chestnuts and a chestnut roaster.

Since we tend more, as a group, to irreverence than nut roasts, when the time came to go home one family hid the chestnuts in the car of another. And so a Christmas tradition developed. Every time we saw each other we’d strive for stealth transfers of ownership. My brother-in-law dominated play.

However, in the final round, I won. Damn that feels good to say. One year we gave their daughter a big stuffed dog for Christmas, and sewed, yes, sewed, the chestnuts into its belly. Afterwards, I refused restart the game, knowing to retire on a big score.

This year I gave my aunt her present early. Yes, I do reciprocate. Like a suburban elf, I left the box at her doorstep. But it’s just a small token, as there is no way I will ever be able to give her anything as wonderful as those storied nuts.

Anyway, I remembered the Nut Wars because I got an early present in the mail yesterday. Nope. No roasters. Remember the talismanic jewelry of Mark Defrates and his wife Pamela? Pam sent me an extra-small yellow gold pentagram.


I mean to wear it on my wrist with a leather string but right now it’s sharing neck chain space. I had to put it on right away, and I don’t really plan to take it off. Please feel free to scoff, I’m old enough not to mind, but I swear I feel some kind of energy emanating. Something about artistry, craftsmanship, and women who would be witches.

I imagine Sturdy Witches, dressed in navy, or a killer pair of cordovan loafers. Well-tailored robes, perhaps, to flatter broad shoulders. Sturdy Witches do something to ordinary things, we don’t know what. They roast chestnuts without fire. Now that I think about it, my aunt has a wonderful voice, perfect for the casting of spells. Perhaps Sturdy Gal Academy is Hogwarts’ State, practical in every sense.

The phrase, “holiday magic,” takes on new meaning.

Have a wonderful weekend. Pam, Mark, thank you so, so, so much for the pentagram. Seriously. I never want to take it off. Everyone deserves a symbol of their own special powers.

50 Responses

    1. @Linda, That is the nicest thing to say. Made my weekend, in advance. Thank you! And at a guess, you know what yours would be, and surely deserve it.

  1. I had to look for pictures of a chestnut roaster. I was relieved to find that it’s a pan and not some kind of standalone electrical appliance. So “on an open fire” still stands. Now I can enjoy the rest of the story in peace.

  2. I had to go back and read your post about Uncle Win. I remember reading it the first time now. Your family has fun! I love the story about the chestnuts.

  3. Well you are soo welcome, Lisa! As I have said – I so look forward to reading your blog that I hoard it an only read on weekend from the luxury of rest time.

    I must point out though that your pentagram is yellow gold! The deal with hand-made pieces and especially from us (who are fanatics about quality finish) is that they are very high shine. So until it tarnishes a bit it will reflect light as if it were white – but it’s 14k yellow gold.

    It looks fabulous on your chain!

    Big Love!

    1. @pamela gene daley, Yoiks what a dope I am! It is gorgeous and I have corrected my post. I just love how I can see the pentagram as though it were in fact woven, not just stamped out of a sheet. Big Love indeed!

  4. I am hoping that post-holiday you will ask your readers what was the most successful gift that they gave, and of course which they received that was best loved. Inquiring minds want to know!

  5. I’m glad that there’s another family out there that is as crazy as ours. You had the Nut Wars….we had the Fruitcake Wars. It all began when we were first married: My boss gave me a rum-soaked fruitcake as a gift (I just have to ask, does ANYONE really like fruitcake?). The rum ensured that it would last a lifetime, unspoiled, so it sat in the freezer for the first several years, undisturbed. Then, I came up with the brilliant idea, “Let’s secretly ‘gift’ my brothers with the brick-like fruitcake!” It was shipped cross-country, wrapped beautifully and laid under the tree, artfully disguised as something else, and finally, after one too many moves to a new home, tossed out unceremoniously with the trash. But thanks for reminding me of it, Lisa! Now, does anyone know where I can get a fruitcake?

    1. @Mamavalveeta03,
      Oh, yes, I love fruitcake – but it’s MY fruitcake that I make from scratch every year. Most commercial cakes are the sort that have given fruitcake a bad name. Mine is a pound cake with fruit and nuts in it. It’s delicious!

  6. “One year we gave their daughter a big stuffed dog for Christmas, and sewed, yes, sewed, the chestnuts into its belly.” oh, you’re such a crazy family!!!!!! I love your “craziness”!!! Delightful!!!

  7. Oh, the joy of slightly evil faux-gifts! I believe that there is a fictional character that fits your Sturdy Witch to a T. Esmeralda Weatherwax, in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, is a very no-nonsense witch. Though she does prefer the traditional black to navy.

  8. Thank you for a good, hearty belly laugh for the day! BTW that diamond pendant looks pretty darn nice, too. I loved today’s post.

    1. @Jane, Thank you. Maybe it was meant to stay on the neck chain. I always try to listen to the universe. And you guys, of course.

  9. Very funny story about the chestnuts. Love the pentagram, and I think it looks great on the chain with the diamond. I always wear a very small bracelet that has a “navratna” which is a Sanskrit symbol, and I also feel it has special energy and protection or something.

  10. I enjoyed reading your nut wars story…
    Over 30 years ago we used to rent a home a few blocks away that had huge edible chestnut trees growing on the boulevard and after a windstorm there were chestnuts on the ground and nut wars on the street with all the people who came t collect the free chestnuts….it was fun to watch.

    I think your diamond and talisman look lovely together…a very nice gift.

  11. Gold for sun energy. And the five points representing the elements of air, earth, fire, water and spirit.

    Sturdy witches know there is magic in the everyday and practical (can you think of anything more magical, in it’s own way, than compost?)

  12. Reminds me of “THE FISH”, a wedding present received by friends and then mysteriously re-gifted among friends for years (in the 80’s and 90’s) .. then the fish disappeared. No one could remember who last received it. A legend….

  13. Yikes, you know the stakes are high when chestnuts are sewn into a child’s toy! Hilarious! Our gift-giving traditions never revolved around a single item; each person had their own gifting signature, if you will. Which is how we came to treasure my dad’s gigantic gift bag of emergency-preparedness accoutrements every year. Oh, he’d give us all money, of course, but he’d also spend hours combing hardware stores to put together just the right mix of things each of us might need in case of a car breakdown on a single lane highway in the wilderness during a 10-day blizzard or a flat-out nuclear holocaust. Think Harrison Ford in Mosquito Coast. For all of our private eye-rolling, what do you suppose we missed most last Christmas, our first without him? Yep, the flashlights and blankets and cans of windshield defroster. ; )

  14. Love the pentagram ..and the story about the chestnuts, Lisa. I’ve never actually eaten a chestnut; at least I don’t think I have. I also love M’s story about her dad’s emergency gifts. That sound so much like my step-dad. It’s funny what you miss when someone is gone from your life, eh?…all those exasperating, endearing things.
    P.S. I looove fruitcake. My mum makes hers with cherry brandy and it’s rich and moist….and perfect.

  15. I want to be edgy like you.

    And I love that charm.

    Proving what we all suspected, you are both charming and edgy.

    xo J

  16. I tried to do that with my husband and his best friend from high school – to create a moving gift. Best friend – gave husband this two-foot-tall ceramic statue of a French waiter with his nose in the air, holding a wine glass. BF got the statue at a garage sale for a few bucks. Gave it to husband, who brought it home and put it in the basement. It was not something either of us wanted on display.

    A year later, BF and his family came to visit. I asked BF’s wife for the car keys and for her help. Took BFW to the basement with me and told her my idea of smuggling statue into car so BF would discover it when they got back home.

    BFW helped me package the statue and hide it in the car.

    Upon his return home, BF discovered statue and was livid and insulted and furious with me.

    BFW said, “I knew he wouldn’t think it was funny.”

    I wanted to know why, if BFW had thought BF would not like it, she had not said, “BF won’t like this. You probably shouldn’t do this.”

    Fortunately, husband and BF were already well on their way to winding down the friendship (BF was annoyed that husband was cussing that night they were there – our basement had just flooded and we were leaving on vacation the next day – BF told husband he should watch his language – there were children around – and husband snapped that perhaps BF could remove the children from the basement so we could figure out how to dry our now soaking-wet carpet), so it’s not a big deal, but I realized I need to pick my practical jokes more carefully.

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