Friday, February 5, 2021

Housewarming Gifts

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies is when Mary and George Bailey present the Martini family with gifts for their new home in It’s a Wonderful Life and give a precious speech: “Bread, that you might never know hunger. Salt, that life may always have flavor. And wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.”  

When we moved into this house, my parents similarly sent gifts, though the ones they chose were a little different. There was an air mattress, which we ended up not needing yet, thanks to my gracious mother-in-law lending us a couple for the long five weeks when we had no furniture.  They also sent an electric kettle, which I also didn’t need because I’d bought one to make my morning tea way back when we were in Texas and had (not kidding) been taking it with me everywhere since. Tea is important. 

One particularly chilly afternoon, Wyatt said, “Mom, can I have some hot chocolate?” I told him sure, and he added, “But I want to make it myself.” I like and encourage independence in my kids, so I had no problem with this. He asked me how to fill the electric kettle, and I showed him the button to press so that the lid lifted, and he put water in. I didn’t assume it was related when I heard the microwave start up shortly after, but suddenly, I heard Lilly’s panic-stricken voice: “Wyatt!  What did you do?! What’s in the microwave?!?!”

Instead of putting the electric kettle back on the stand that heats it up, he had stuck it in the microwave. Sparks were flying in the microwave, and the acrid stench of melted plastic permeated the air. We quickly stopped the microwave and assessed the damage. The microwave had survived, by some kind miracle, but the electric kettle was done. I could see what Wyatt had been thinking, and he wasn’t the first Nicholas kid to misuse a microwave. At least this hadn’t created so much smoke that an entire 42-story apartment building almost needed to be evacuated!   

I called my parents later and told them they must be psychic. How had they known we needed -- maybe not right when they gave it, but soon! -- another electric kettle?! We laughed, and I suggested they start a psychic network. 

In the meantime, I was lamenting my separation from my piano. I have played piano most of my life, and most recently in Korea, I played for the chapel we attended for the last year-and-a-half before we moved. Our new house was lovely, but so empty. Every evening especially, I wished I could sit and play, especially since it was Christmas time.  Whenever my parents called, they asked for an update on my household goods.  “Same ol’, same ol’,” I told them.  “And what really bugs me is that I can’t even play Christmas songs to sing with the kids!” My eyes actually welled with tears when I said this.  I couldn’t help it. 

A few days later, I got a text asking my thoughts about a good digital piano because my mom wanted to play again since she was spending so much time at home now. I told them my recommendations, and a few days after that, the doorbell rang. It was a man in a UPS uniform.

“I just wanted to tell you, I put your piano behind your fence.” 

I looked at him, confused. My piano? “Oh… Okay… Thanks…” I said, trying to make my voice and actions seem like I knew what he was talking about.  After he left and I closed the door, I raced around the house and found the digital piano I’d recommended to my parents leaning against the house behind the gate.  I burst into tears as I called my parents. “Did you send your piano here?” I asked. They said yes. They’re planning to move here in the spring, after they get their vaccination and are hopefully safe to travel. “Stop crying or I’ll take it back,” Dad joked. Then he added gently, “You need to play Christmas music. It wouldn’t be right if you couldn’t.”  

It was “only” ten more days until our household goods were delivered, and with them, my own piano. But those ten days seemed a whole lot less empty than the previous ones had. We sang Christmas songs day and night, as well as many others.  

My parents’ gifts and apparent clairvoyant abilities got me to thinking about what gifts I would give all of you if, similar to Oprah, I had that ability. (“You get an electric kettle! And you get an electric kettle!” etc)  I would say a piano for music because there should always be music, but I know not everyone loves pianos like I do. So I’d give you just some way to play music, lots of it, and as loud as you want. It’s lifted my spirits so much over the past year. I would suggest some good playlists for dinners and barbecues, and I would make sure you had lots of plates and serving bowls and forks and spoons, with the hope that this time of isolation ends quickly and makes us realize just how wonderful it is to gather around food, tell stories, and laugh loud and heartily until late in the night. I would hand out passports and plane tickets, to see the places we didn’t go this year (hello, canceled spring break in Krabi) and many more. I’d fill up your fuel tanks so you could drive around this country -- or whichever one you live in -- and take in the immense beauty of God’s creation.

But since I don’t have that much money, I just hope for these gifts for you: 

A new importance placed on celebrating life -- birthdays, new jobs, retirements, surviving the week -- because we can.

The ability to talk to our neighbors, truly getting to know them and regardless of differences, treat each other with love, respect, and kindness.

A heightened desire for true connection, gathering together and putting away phones and agendas to look at each other and listen.

And I hope we get these gifts soon.