Familiarity breeds confusion

Posted by GT on October 8th, 2008 — Posted in Newspaper columns, Personal favorites

Originally published in November 2005, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

How is it possible that knowing someone so well makes it harder to figure out what to get for her birthday?

Household clutter has been driving my wife up the wall lately – possibly because our walls have more open space than our floors.

All the little things we’ve picked up and brought home over the years have grown into a significant pile. Toys and shoes alone create the most amusing obstacle course between our bedroom and our daughters’ and the closets are so stuffed we rarely get the doors closed.

As a healthy, mobile human being, Lisa enjoys being able to move around the house whenever she pleases and she’s disturbed that she can’t do so without tripping over some obstacle … or bumping her head on one.

That’s fine, I understand the claustrophobic feelings our home can inspire. Still, I remain dedicated to not throwing away anything with the slightest potential for future usefulness or sentimental moments, and we both avoid storing things in our shed because the mice will move in and make an awful mess (eight years of battling these nasty invaders has cured me of the notion that mice are cute).

So now, with Lisa’s birthday approaching, I wonder: What does a surface thinker like me get for the wife who can’t use any more trinkets?

The process of figuring this out should probably begin with reminding myself of the many things I’ve learned about this woman in our years together – 16 of them so far – and trying to recognize what has changed.

I don’t have to close my eyes to remember Lisa as she was in 1989; her light blond hair, her walk, even the clothes that are long gone from her (our) closet come to mind easily because I was paying serious attention to them. I’ve mentally memorialized items she probably doesn’t think about much anymore, such as the dark pink dress that looked great when she wore it and the old record player on which we used to stack vinyl by Nanci Griffith, Cat Stevens and the like.

Her apartments – she had three of them before we married – were sparse. She seldom attached herself to material things and places to sit were at a premium.

That young woman, my Lisa, liked her french fries with an unpalatable dusting of pepper and ached to travel the world. Her smile made my heart race.

The smile (and all the teeth that make it) remain and I still like seeing it, especially when it’s directed at our children. Her hair is still blond but darker, while our daughters’ hair is more like hers was back then. The pink dress and the record player are gone; the records are crammed onto a shelf in our bedroom, still played occasionally. She rarely puts pepper on her fries anymore.

And, as I said, instead of her own apartment with few places to sit, she now lives in a crowded little home, with chairs buried in the rejected bits of a hundred daily art and dress-up projects.

Lisa manages this chaos while taking care of the kids, shopping for groceries and paying bills at the same time, but all too often getting one mess under control means letting three others grow.

My gifts to my wife over the years have ranged from mundane to mildly interesting. Videotapes, music, jewelry, books … plenty of stuff. Some of it I look back on and know, “Yep, I did all right that year.” More often I wish I’d put in a little more thought.

So, what kind of present would she truly enjoy for her birthday this year?
Well, we need a new vacuum…

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