Some things on my list are tangible — some never were.
Had you asked earlier, I might have said a uniformed exterminator with a big green bow on his cap. But since my husband, Dan, caught and released our kitchen mice— driving each tiny one, in the car, to the woods nearby —and my Sis already got me pink fur Ugg slippers, these are my picks. (Yes, I am married to a tree hugger who once called Animal Rescue over a chipmunk, and my sister asked for my color choice.)
- Books. I heard these authors on our local NPR radio station. Each book is escapist reading during a sequestered pandemic. Always Home: A Daughter’s Recipes & Stories by Fanny Singer (her mother is chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse) is peppered with gorgeous black-and-white photos. The second, We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence, by Becky Cooper, hangs on the mysterious 1969 murder of a Harvard graduate student. (Sorry, I know this is sugar-plum Christmastime, but real-life crimes can be compelling.) Caveat: Rather than feed the beast — blue Amazon vans constantly crisscross our streets — I asked Dan and our daughter, Annie, to order the books from independent Watchung Booksellers, right in town.
- A gift card. But again from a local business, to help keep it afloat– maybe Howell, which stocks a French-inspired brand of oversized, hand-spun linen dish towels ($30) in cheery ginghams* that make pot-scrubbing less of a drudge, and Irish cashmere and wool blankets and throws. Or Vesta Chocolate, for handcrafted lattes, pure roasted cacao nibs to top my yogurt or a mod ceramic (at-home, not travel) cup. Then there’s Moss & More, a fairy-tale garden shop that now incorporates the elegant Studio Nectar, with a stem bar. (Amy Gofton, the flower maven, left a splashy, colorful career at Kate Spade.)
- Something Tory Burch, if Dan has money burning a hole in his pocket and there’s a sale on the TB site. I’m eyeing wide-leg track pants in snow white and red — new suit for Ms. Santa? I’ve long loved that Tory offers my real-life sizes: XL for most styles, 11 for shoes. I’m at an advantage when Dan waits until the last minute to shop. Online ordering is simple.
- Peace on earth, or at least in our little breakfast nook for a few 6 p.m. family dinners. Don’t ask.
- A moment in time. The chance to travel back to the fresh, bracing minutes on Christmas Eve in the late 1960s/early 1970s, darkness just falling, Dad and I climbing into the car for our VIP task — driving to the lot outside Two Guys store in Hackensack to get our tree. My parents watched their budget, and by December 24, the trees were marked down. (Dad always talked about being lucky to get an orange as a kid on Christmas.) That was a toasty coat of honor on the shoulders of a hardworking husband/father of four and his youngest child — an honor we gladly accepted. We may have been ordinary by day, but rose up merrily to greet Santa Claus and Baby Jesus in all their glory with the most pivotal family purchase of the year. I felt 10 feet tall in my scrappy hand-me-down blue jeans from my brother Will, the ones lined with wintry red plaid flannel. When Dad and I headed home, we were bursting with pride and joy.
*I’ve washed my trusty pink and green checked one at least 20 times.
Alice Garbarini Hurley lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her family. She really does wish for Christmas peace, and is signing off now to catch the Rockettes at 10 p.m. on NBC in a Zoom call with her girls, Annie and Skippy; her sister; and her goddaughter, who now lives in Florida. In nonpandemic years, she treated them all to tickets to “The Christmas Spectacular” at Radio City Music Hall.