Last week, a box from overseas arrived, filled to the brim with lots of goodies. It was sent October of last year in time for Christmas, but obviously, thanks to the ever-reliable postal system (ever-reliably SLOW & LATE, that is), it arrived just after Valentine's Day.
The box was opened and it smelled like apples and brand new leather shoes.
Everything was individually wrapped in plastic bags and labeled with yellow Post-Its. The lotion and shampoo bottles were wrapped in Scotch Tape like there was no tomorrow so as to prevent spillage; the soap was packaged in bricks of 20s; the chocolates were placed in Ziplock bags that were Scotch-Taped and again wrapped in another plastic bag that was wrapped with packaging tape; all the crew neck shirts had a city's name on it; the toys were all identical and all came in packs of 5 or 6; there were about 23 packs of tube socks and about 14 packs of underwear; there were high quality, leather and rubber shoes that were brand new and fit no one; there were dozens of perfumes, lipsticks, and makeup, all in their mini, trial-size versions; and of course, there was the letter from the relative who sent the box, complete with instructions, which things are for whom (as if the labels weren't enough), and the "we hope everybody's OK" added as an after-thought.
During the handing out of goodies, it easily becomes apparent who the "leaders" (most of the time they are self-appointed) of the family are: the loud uncle, the overbearing aunt, the cousin who just graduated from med school; they usually have the honor of reading out the names on the Post-Its and the others are relegated to arranging the goodies into piles according to the families they belong to. Then there are those that are left to putting the goodies in the piles into plastic bags and labeling them for doling out. All this time, the kids are just itching to find out what they got.
In the midst of all the adrenaline, it's nice to see that beneath the mad scramble for the hand-outs of a more fortunate kin, is the experience of FAMILY.
The opening of the box is made into a family event, a reunion where potluck lunch is served, EVERYONE is present (perhaps for fear that they be given the stuff that no one wants if they're not there for first dibs), there's a grand production number out of cutting open the packaging tapes...
On the one hand, it's all sad & silly, really. It is, after all, a shameless display of materialism.
But on the other, the box is JUST AN EXCUSE TO GET TOGETHER AS FAMILY.
We can always get these things for ourselves. But it's not always that we have our entire family with us to share the joy of receiving.