The red scarf

For many years, my parents have relied on me to host the parties that they throw.  For major holidays, I arrive a day or two early, clean and decorate the house, prepare all the food, and organize the bedrooms.  Once, when the entirety of my enormous Italian family was planning to meet at my grandparents’ house for Christmas, my parents paid to fly me out three days early to prepare for the party.

This past year, in addition to my other duties, my mother confessed that she hadn’t been able to buy gifts for anyone.  She handed me her credit card, gave me puppy eyes, and begged me to do the shopping.  With a sigh (I hate shopping), I put on my coat and headed out the door.

One of the odd ironies of my life is, though I ADORE getting and making gifts for people, I am often a terrible gift giver.  In spite of all my good intentions, my gifts usually end up falling short of my hopes.  My knitted hats are usually just a teensy bit lopsided; in other words, my gifts are often riddled with imperfections.  Imagine my struggle, then, to buy gifts for over 20 guests, several of which I had only met once or twice.

After a few exhausting hours, I had found a gift for every single guest except one: a friend of my mother’s whom I barely knew.  I wandered the store, trying to summon up some knowledge of her personality.  Then I saw it: a perfect, elaborately stitched and beautifully soft, crimson scarf. “This is perfect for Cara!” I thought suddenly. Now, I am certainly not fashionable; I’m lucky if I put my shirt on right side out in the morning, but for the first time in my life, an article of clothing screamed a name at me.  And that name was Cara.

Content with my gifts, I headed home and spent the evening wrapping and baking.

The next day was Christmas and we were greeting the guests as they filed in by twos and threes. I was warmly hugging my uncle when I saw Cara walk in the door over his shoulder.  I immediately groaned.  Wrapped around her neck was a perfect, elaborately stitched, crimson scarf.

Stupid brain!  I must have seen her wearing a scarf like that the last time I had met her and of course, my brain had automatically associated her with red scarves.  That was why it had screamed her name at the store.

The children in our family hand out the gifts one by one, and as my little cousin handed Cara her gift, I cringed and said, “I have a little teensy caveat about your gift, Cara…”

She opened it and pulled out the scarf and I started rambling about my mistake and apologizing.  She gave me a steady look and then said, “Oh no, this one is WAY better than mine!  It’s so much softer.  And I love the colour.”  (The colour was almost identical, thanks brain.)  She immediately took off her scarf and replaced it with the one I had bought.  And she wore it for the rest of the night.

People can be so generous.

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