This is the first article in December of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on December 5, 1909, and is an article on helpful tips for purchasing gifts for people you may not know very well.
Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.
Gifts for the Country Cousin
EVERY ONE possesses country cousins or their equivalent. The degree of relationship may vary, or there may be none at all; the distant connections may be uncles, aunts or merely friends, and their homes may be in towns they would scorn to have called “country,” far though these may be from the big centers of city life. Yet to those of us who do live in such centers the dweller in any less crowded region is likely to be considered as one living in the country.
“New York isn’t nearly so pleasant at this time of the year as the country,” wrote a visitor in her bread-and-butter letter after returning from a stay in a thriving town of 50,000 inhabitants. The fact that this same town had beautiful suburbs within easy driving distance—and that it was not New York—to her mind made it “country.”
Wherever the “country cousins” are, however, they are to be reckoned with or for in the Christmas preparations. My plea today is that in such reckoning you regard them less as country people and more as human beings.
Do I hear an expostulation? Do you declare that you always look upon them as human beings and as beloved relatives as well? Stop and think a bit. Do you recollect what you sent them last Christmas? Put on your considering cap. Better still, if you follow the wise custom of keeping your Christmas lists over from year to year, consult that for last Christmas, and see what you sent them. Here it is. Now read it over.
“Aunt Mary—tidy.” You haven’t forgotten that tidy? It was given to you the year before by a grateful Sunday-school scholar, and when you opened the parcel you said: “It was very sweet in Jane to make it, but I wouldn’t be found dead with that thing in my parlor.” Yet you were quite willing Aunt Mary should receive that atrocity as a token of your affection for her. Don’t you feel a little ashamed when you think of it?
Let’s go on with the list. “Uncle Tom—book of sermons.” You probably gave him these because you thought they might do him good, though you might have known he would not read them. Sermons were never much in his line, and the poor old gentleman’s eyes are too bad now to allow him to use them much. When he can read he would rather have something a little more likely than those sermons.
The next item is for Cousin Ella. I don’t wonder you wish to pass that by without notice. “Framed picture” looks very well, but do you recollect the picture? It was a chromo lithograph, and not a good one at that. I grant that Cousin Ella doesn’t know much about art, but is that any reason why you should inflict upon her such a confusion of glaring colors as were confounded in that picture? Why didn’t you give her a good photograph simply framed, if you had to give her a picture? There’s nothing in which there’s a bigger risk than in the buying of pictures for others. When you buy one for a person whose tastes are not well known to you, get something non-aggressive, at least—something you would not object to having on your own parlor or sitting-room walls.
There, after all, is the keynote to the choice of Christmas gifts for the country cousins. Don’t send them something to which you yourself would hardly give houseroom. Even though their tastes may very possibly different from yours, even if you are not sure of their preferences in most lines, select something which would please you, and you may be pretty sure to please them.
This principle is a good one to start with, but there is more than that even in the gifts for the country cousins.
Try to study their individual needs a little, and consider these in choosing your presents. More than that, given them what they want, as well as what they need. All of us have a touch of the feeling expressed by the woman who said that she could get along without the necessities of life, if she could only have the luxuries. The country cousin is probably like the rest of us. So, if you make her a gift which you think will supply a necessity, add to it a flavor of luxury which will raise the present above the level of the commonplace.
An Added Personal Touch.
For example: You know that she is likely to need towels. Well, towels are acceptable to me in any circumstances, and doubtless to any other housekeeper; but there is an added grace in receiving them when they are adorned with an embroidered letter, which shows that some thought of me went into the gift beyond the mere business of purchasing it. Don’t you believe the country cousin would feel that grace, too? Or, suppose that you gave her dish towels—a homely present, but very welcome to most of us. Mark these, too, with an outline letter or name in heavy red marking cotton. It will take little time to do them, and the handiwork will impart to the gift the personal touch which trebles its value to the recipient.
Follow the sample principle with the rest of the gifts you send the country cousins. Never make them a dumping heap for last year’s unwelcome gifts. What you don’t want yourself because it is useless or unattractive or unsuitable is an outrage on the spirit of Christmas to bestow upon some one else.
Go further than this. Don’t leave to the random impulse or the last hurried moment the choice of gifts for the country cousin. Don’t say, even in your thoughts, “Oh, they live away off and don’t see anything new, and will never know if this is not in good taste.” You can’t be positive on the taste question, and even if you were, is that quite the spirit which should go with the choice of a Christmas present?
Try to reconstruct your mental attitude toward the country cousins and the gifts you choose for them. In the first place, fill yourself full of the real spirit of Christmas, the spirit of a great gift bestowed with a great love. That is the ideal of giving you should set before yourself. In the light of that, buy yourself gifts for the country cousins.
You look at the purchase of such gifts in a rather different way with that light upon them. You make your choice in another fashion from that you have heretofore followed. You buy as though you were selecting for the near and dear, and if you do not know the tastes of the distant one to whom you are giving, imagination takes the place of knowledge. And with that imagination put common sense, and you have a pair it is hard to beat.
Imagination and Goose Sense.
Your imagination tells you that if a person is off in the real country, away from many neighbors, she may need brightness and beauty brought into her life. Your common sense warns you not to achieve this by the gift of useless trifles in the line of ornament and bric-a-brac, which clutter more than test beautify. In the place of these, you choose a good picture, a nice piece of brass, a candlestick or a lamp or a sconce, a pretty table cover or a couch cushion, or something else that will be pleasing after the first novelty of possession is worn off.
Or you may know that the country cousin is a housekeeper who loves dainty things, and has little means to satisfy that love. Send her an attractive bureau cover or tray cloth or centerpiece or a set of doilies or a little china which will be useful as well as ornamental. Give her a set of nappies or of bouillon cups or of finger bowls or a cup and saucer or a pair of candlesticks or any other pretty thing you would like for yourself. Or turn your back upon these and give her something for her own personal adorning, a delicate jabot or collars and cuffs or half a dozen yards of novel ruching or some other neckwear or a pair of silk stockings or gloves or, if she is a young girl, something dainty in underwear. What would you like yourself in her place? There is your guide.
But are there no men country cousins? Surely there are, and they demand more thought than the women. But even here you may make a wise choice if imagination and common sense are again put to work. The young men are easily pleased. A tie, a fancy handkerchief, a pipe—no man ever had too many pipes—a pair of silk socks, gloves. With an older man the choice is harder. The pipe may do here again, or a tobacco pouch or desk furnishings, unless he is likely to be overloaded with these.
When in doubt for man or woman, old or young, a safe gift almost always is a magazine subscription. Here is a gift which comes every month and lasts a whole year. Books are good, if you know you country cousin’s tastes, but a magazine is better. Select that which will, to your mind, meet most nearly the wishes and the preferences of the one to whom it is to go, and you will rest content in the thought that in one instance at least your choice of a Christmas gift is likely to be a success.
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