If you buy me gadgets, I will throw them away

The Halloween decorations are finally down (they went up in August), which can only mean one thing: it is officially gadget season.

You thought I was gonna say Christmas? No, though it’s understandable why there could be some confusion. This is not about seasonal festivities; it is about the purchasing of tonnes and tonnes of useless gadgets because everybody feels obligated to buy something — anything — whether the intended recipient will want it, need it, or use it. It’s when gift giving goes from being from the heart to running down a list. It’s why we have singing bass on plaques, corkscrews as big as anvils, Patty Stackers, ThighMasters, Pet Rocks and Chia Pets.

One year, my sister got a Very Ugly Vase as a wedding gift. It’s the kind you see in the store window of a dollar store and think, who would buy a fake crystal Very Ugly Vase for five bucks? It was bad. I have a couple of Very Beautiful Vases that were wedding gifts, and while I have divested myself of nearly everything that reminds me of being married, even I admit these vases, that I rarely use, are beautiful and I like the way the light flicks through them. A little beautiful crystal goes a long way.

The Very Ugly Vase has gone a long way, as well, because for years, it kept popping up as a gift to someone in the family on some occasion. Whoever had it would hold on to it just long enough to let it slip from memory then, bam. You got nailed with the Very Ugly Vase.

Sometimes we filled it jelly beans. Sometimes we disguised it in huge boxes. The Sommerfeld sisters know how to have fun. The problem is that, like gadgets, the Very Ugly Vase is only a momentary joke and then someone is stuck slugging it around for years.

Maybe it’s because I just spent most of the past year tossing things out and stripping my home to the bare walls, but you can learn my lesson early. I’ve had to clear not just the accumulated crap of my lifetime but much of my parents’, as well. Tucked at the back of cupboards and closets, stored in boxes in attics and basements, stashed in crawl spaces and stowed in trunks — junk.

Oh sure, some gems popped out, like a few years’ worth of old magazines that made an artist who hauled them off very happy. That trunk itself, battered and bruised, is now my coffee table.

But for the most part, it was simply a burden of things. My mother arrived from England with almost nothing, and my father came from the prairies with even less. The things they accumulated had to be considered and saved for, unlike today’s Dollar Shop stockpiles amassed weekly, randomly, flippantly. I’ve often thought the fact I was so broke when I got divorced and the boys were tiny was a good thing; I had to watch every dollar and the only thing we could get for a buck was a movie rental from Six Penny Mini Mart on Friday nights.

I think gag gifts should have to serve two purposes, like something that makes you laugh and then you can eat it, or something that makes you laugh and then you can use it as kindling.

Give someone good socks instead of a Christmas CD; give them a new snow shovel instead of a Duck Dynasty bobblehead; a bottle of wine instead of a remote controlled flying shark.

I tossed the Very Ugly Vase this year.

At least I told my sisters I did.

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6 responses to If you buy me gadgets, I will throw them away

  1. Padraig says:

    Roz. I vote Roz. You could fill it with kitty litter, fresh of course, unless yoiu’re mad at her.

    • Pat says:

      Yes, I hate gadgets! I’ve gotten a few, useless, things over the years.
      I once got an electric adjustable wrench??
      This summer I was building a garage and had a dumpster for a month. It was liberating; I went through the house and threw everything out I hadn’t used recently. I highly recommend a dumpster once every five years. And, the good stuff to Sally Ann or friends who can use it.

  2. Sandy says:

    My friends and I have our own ‘ugly vase’ although it is a brass eagle statue, with wings fully outstretched. I think it came from the front window of Mount Royal variety store, and if you have been there, you can understand the level of ugly.
    It was first a housewarming gift for the first among us to jump into home ownership in the early 90’s. It got passed around as we each made the leap and the last one was stuck with it for a very long time. I thought it was long gone but when I bought my own home after my divorce, it found its way back to me.
    Thought I’d have to toss it at some point, but when my ex and his new wife bought a house, I gave it to him. She was horrified and he just laughed. Don’t know if he still has it but when I moved a few years ago, I didn’t get it back.
    He has had more than one dumpster in his driveway in the last few years, so I’m guessing it is gone, but I won’t be moving any time soon to find out.

  3. helen hubert says:

    Oh! Excellent column! I have been telling my friends and family for a while now…if you are giving me a gift it needs to be something I can either eat, drink, smoke, or plant. Sometimes they follow my new rules.

    • Zena says:

      There’s only one thing that comes immediately to mind that fits all of those criteria at once. And hey—rumour has it it’ll be legal soon too…

      Heh heh.

  4. Zena says:

    We have a corollary, of sorts, to the “ugly vase.” It’s a small jar of atrophied grape jelly that we’ve been schlepping around with us for the past, ooh, more years than I can count.

    Back story: once upon a time, when we lived in the woods, I made a batch of (very tasty, if I do say so myself) concord grape jelly from the vines in our orchard. One jar wasn’t sealed properly, and after spending an unspecified amount of time forgotten at the back of the cupboard, it was discovered. By that time it had mummified, and it looked so ridiculous that I kept it as a joke. And now it’s become a kind of family heirloom.

    It’s made several moves with us, taking up its place of honour on each new kitchen counter—serving as a memento for lost places and times, and a wry symbol of how absurd life can be, and how quickly things can go bad if they’re not, erm, preserved well.

    If anyone ever asks, I’ll tell them it’s our version of “meat cake” (George Carlin fans will get the reference).

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