Lanni would like me to bring her chocolate.
Bringing chocolate to Paris seems a bit silly, but she doesn’t want good chocolate. “I want that peanut butter chocolate, what do you call it?”
“Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?”
“Yes! that’s it. I want those peanut butter cups!” Lanni loves Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. She should become the Parisian distributor.
“Anything else? I have lots of room in my luggage.”
I wait while Lanni imagines all the things Americans have easy access to that the French do not. “Baseball caps! My son would like a baseball cap. They have them here, but they are silly expensive. Oh! And cranberries. Can you get cranberries?”
I dutifully write these requests down. Bringing things from abroad is a time-honored tradition. The first time I visited my Swedish and Norwegian relatives with my parents in the 1970s, we brought maple syrup for the adults and Pop Rocks for the kids. Living in Africa, we relied on our friends for things we couldn’t get. I brought romance novels, beef jerky, sudoku books, sports bras, champagne flutes, a box set of Monty Python’s Flying Circus DVDs, many pounds of cat litter (almost always inspected by U.S. Customs on the way out), peanut butter cups and once, with some difficulty, a toilet seat.
“Yes, I can get cranberries.”
“But not the ones with oil in them.” (Oil? Is she thinking of something other than cranberries?) I promise to get the ones without oil. I’ll be staying at Lanni’s apartment in the heart of Paris for the price of some cranberries and peanut butter cups. I want to get it right.
When my parents were engaged my father, who grew up with one sibling, suddenly found himself in a family of eleven siblings. There were eight sisters and my mother was the second to youngest. It must have been a little intimidating. The sisters wanted to know what my dad wanted that first Christmas. He said brown socks. My father got a lot of brown socks that year, each sock wrapped individually, from all the sisters.
I think those socks were a very good gift. My dad knew he was noticed and appreciated. He got a taste for what having these eight funny, lively women in his life was going to be like. He was made fun of and made to feel special all at once.
The best gifts are never necessities. The best gifts are the ones that show you are cared for, that someone was thinking of you and knows you well enough to buy you a gift. None of the things I brought overseas were necessities. No one needs maple syrup or candy that explodes in your mouth. We can all live without sudoku, Monty Python, beef jerky, peanut butter cups and romance novels. One could probably even get along without champagne flutes, a proper toilet seat, or a good-fitting sports bra. (Only clumping cat litter would I say is an absolute necessity for civilized life.)
But the point is never about need. The point is to be able to say: this is from my friend, my relative from America, my sisters-in-law, someone who cares about me.
I think about what a good friend Lanni has been to me over the past few years. I remember her endless patience with me when I was going through relationship difficulties, her undisguised joy in my successes, her no-nonsense encouragement when my confidence faltered.
“Anything else?” I ask. “I have lots of room in my luggage.”
Till next time,