Laura Ofobike

I woke up one early morning last week with Nancy Reagan on my mind. Why, I could not tell.

Strange, you might say, the curves the brain travels. The former first lady and I never have been on the same wavelength as I recall. Neither has she been in the news of late, for all I know.

But there I was, awakened by a heavy thud and the rattling of the screen on the front door in loud protest. In the half-second between sleep and wide awake, I knew the culprit to be the heft of a newspaper heaved from halfway up the driveway. The heft of $34.35 or $69.35 or $123. 90 in coupons and savings. The promise of bargains like you’ve never seen before and may never again see.

So hurry, for we have entered the season of anticipation. Store shelves are creaking with ever so much to go around, gifts to be bought and passed on.

Stuff. Some of it may bring joy — or not. Basements and closets keep well their secrets of gifts that have never seen the light of day.

What do we do, anyway, with all that stuff acquired in such anticipation, the weight of which does so disturb our sleep? How do we keep this up year after year, the come-hither calls coming sooner and sooner, louder and louder.

In the space between half-sleep and awake, I guess some neurons fired, dredging up the memory of a woman scorned for giving away stuff she did not need, did not ask for and did not want.

Strange thing, the meanderings of the brain.

I never quite understood the grief Nancy Reagan caught when a biographer revealed the lady had a habit of recycling gifts she had been given. A few people were in a huff about all that. How cheap of her, they said. No class at all to pass off a gift to someone else; for heaven’s sake, what would those other persons think if they knew they were getting gifts on the rebound!

But consider the sheer volume of stuff we are encouraged to buy and the ever-growing number of occasions to celebrate — Christmas or Hanukkah, Valentine’s, birthdays, anniversaries, Sweetest Day, Secretary’s Day and so on. We would be buried by our possessions if we tried to hold on to everything we receive.

Some gifts I have kept just because “it is the thought that counts.” Or because of the value of the relationship with the giver. Or because the item speaks to a special need. But what point is there in keeping a gift that serves no purpose for you, taking up space when it could make a difference to someone else?

That strikes me as awfully wasteful. If drinking red wine, say, gives you migraines, what’s cheap about “re-gifting” the box of it that arrives at Christmas to someone who doesn’t pay for the pleasure with a splitting headache? The haute couture outfit you cannot — will not — wear, may be just the thing for the friend or acquaintance with a flair for avant-garde fashion.

Tell me about waste. Not long ago, I discovered a box of expensive Swiss chocolate at the bottom of a deep freezer, keeping company with salt-cured fish, cheeses of uncertain vintage and other frost-bitten delicacies long forgotten. I remembered the gift of chocolate had arrived during Lent, when we endeavor to “turn over the dinner plate” and forsake indulgence for a while.

I could have given it away right then, of course, and savored the thanks. But the box went into the freezer, temptation safely put at a distance. And there it stayed. Two years, it turned out. By which time, brown chocolates had acquired a whitish sheen and flavors no chocolatier dreamed up. Gifts have no business ending up in the trash bin.

The United States is a wealthy place, and people generally may have little regard for anything with the air of a hand-me-down. That much I appreciate. Yet, there is an art to giving things away that dignifies the gift for both givers and whoever finally receives it.

It begins with constructing carefully the chain of giving. It should not hurt the pride of the original giver to be informed that it would bless you more to extend the gesture of a gift, chosen with you in mind, to meet the greater need of someone you know.

It should not offend someone who receives the gift to know that you are extending the same thoughts that were extended to you.

Best of all, be sure to give a gift that you would dearly love to receive yourself, and chances are it will not be the boomerang gift that makes its way back home.

Good scouting.

Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at lofobike@thebeaconjournal.com.