“The Necklace,” New Era, Dec. 1986, 26
My family has a tradition of drawing names for Christmas. It began when we were all still quite young and had to buy presents for each other from the meager handfuls of change in our piggy banks. We decided that it would be better to buy one brother or sister a nice gift than to buy smaller ones for all six. Secrecy was part of the tradition during our growing up years. At times we went to great lengths to keep one another from knowing whose name we had, or to be the first one to figure out who everyone else had. It added an air of mystery and excitement to the gift giving.
One year when I was in my early teens, my younger brother Eric drew my name. Christmas morning there was a present wrapped and under the tree from Eric to me. When my turn to open a present came, I tore the festive paper from the package while Eric watched in anticipation. When the package was finally open and I saw the gift, I stopped in astonishment. Eric had bought me an imitation turquoise necklace.
Now before you get visions of a dainty necklace that could be worn inconspicuously with nearly anything, let me describe it. The necklace hung halfway to my waist when I wore it. The main stone was at least the size of a silver dollar, and all the way up the chain were smaller stones. The setting was cheap tin fashioned to vaguely resemble the silver settings of genuine turquoise jewelry. Protruding from between the stones on the chain were geometric shapes of metal. In short, the necklace was huge.
Now, I was at an age when one is not extremely sensitive to the feelings of others (especially if they are the feelings of a younger brother), but somehow I realized that in Eric’s mind the necklace was exquisitely beautiful. Perhaps it was the look of rapture in his eyes, but I could imagine how he had searched for just the right gift for me and how excited he had felt when he finally found that necklace. So that left me with just one problem: What was I going to do with it?
This problem was compounded by the fact that gaudy turquoise jewelry was not the vogue right then. And even had it been, this was not the kind of necklace one could wear with just anything. So the necklace sat on my dresser for several weeks while I pondered what to do with it.
Then one Sunday morning I decided that it could wait no longer; it was time to wear the necklace—in public. (I had already decided that when I did wear it, it would be to church where there would not be so many of my friends to see it.) I chose a plain denim skirt and a white sweater to go with the necklace. When I was dressed, I stood in front of the mirror for a long time trying to decide if my appearance was acceptable. I almost changed into a different outfit—one without the necklace—but finally heaved a sigh and went upstairs.
Eric and my younger sister, Gaigh, were in the living room. When I entered, Eric’s face brightened and he turned to Gaigh.
Then in a triumphant tone of voice he said, “See, I told you she liked it!”
Knowing the two and the constant brother-sister bickering between them, it was not hard to figure out what had gone on.
“She doesn’t like your present,” Gaigh had probably taunted.
“Yes, she does,” Eric would have replied in that defensive tone we all take when we are ardently defending something of which we are not totally convinced ourselves. Now as I wore the necklace, Eric was vindicated.
Standing there, seeing the look of delight on his face at the sight of the necklace hanging around my neck, I realized that wearing the necklace was more important than all the embarrassment I might receive by doing so. After all, it was a gift given in the true spirit of giving. I would have been ungrateful to have accepted it in a manner any less gracious than the manner it had been given in.
That day I found an unexpected pleasure in wearing the necklace. When people asked about it (and many did because it was not the kind of thing one can easily ignore), I announced proudly that my brother had given it to me.
I’ve received many gifts since then. Some have been exactly what I’ve hoped for, others not. But each time I have tried to remember that behind each gift is a giver. And to offend someone who gives, no matter how humble or startling their gift, is to commit the grave sin of ingratitude.
I don’t have the necklace anymore. I doubt I wore it more than half a dozen times. And I think it was sent off to the thrift store when I sorted through my things while packing for college. In fact, I’m not even sure what made me remember it now, but the other night lying in bed I thought of the necklace and wished I still had it. Not because it is any more the style now than it was then, but because of the tender memories it holds—memories of the eagerness of a young boy in giving a gift, and the lesson an older sister learned in receiving it.