Most gifts we send and receive are appreciated for a while but, with precious few exceptions, forgotten over time. One standout was confirmed in a letter I’ll forever remember as Christmas in July. It came from Carolyn, a St. Louis native who engaged my love at first sight — with a food fight in a Columbia, Mo., dorm cafeteria some three decades ago.
Carolyn was verklempt. Her only child, a summer daycare worker, would soon be 18. “To think her ‘childhood’ will be over and set in stone kills me,” she wrote. “I can only hope I did enough right and pray for forgiveness” otherwise. “But I was a child until 35, so maybe she will extend hers a little, too.”
Then came the present about the bequest I had forgotten.
“When Tori was about 2 years old, you sent her a video of a Disney movie about cats … She shows the toddlers movies in the afternoon where she works, but they watch the same movies over and over. I said, ‘We still have all your old movies downstairs if you want to take (them) to work.’ She picked out ‘The Aristocats’ because she said she LOVED it as a little kid. So now a new generation is watching it. It was so cute.”
For reasons I don’t completely comprehend, “The Aristocats” made a huge impression on me as a youngster. I remember seeing it in the theater — likely upon its 1970 release. I was transfixed by the familiar voices of Eva Gabor and Pat Buttram (Lisa Douglas and Mr. Haynie of “Green Acres”), the vivid caricatures of Parisian architecture and cityscapes, a nightclub, a scheming butler, slapstick. Though I’ve never been a cat person, it probably made me a Francophile and a jazz lover.
“Tell Tori it warms my heart to know she loves it as much as I do,” I replied. It’s funny what a big difference a little gift can make.
The other film that stands in high relief from my childhood is “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” (1964) about a man (played by Don Knotts) who falls into the ocean and becomes an animated fish, a heroic asset of the U.S. Navy.
Those two old classics make great gifts for kids. The best new classic I’d be inclined to give a child of any age is “Ratatouille” (2007), Disney Pixar Animation Studios’ eighth (and best) feature film, about an endearing rat named Remy who fulfills his dream of becoming a French chef. May every viewer fall in love with Paris and haute cuisine.
Holiday music gifts that consistently fire on all cylinders include the nostalgic A Charlie Brown Christmas with jazz piano virtuoso Vince Guaraldi and two traditional CDs, Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity and Christmas with the Cambridge Singers. Of the latter, amazon.com reviewer Daniel G. Berk writes, “John Rutter is able to evoke a sound from a choir like no one else I’ve ever heard. There is a beauty and ethereal quality to his choral work that is absolutely captivating.” Many years ago, I gave Carols to dear friends who make my heart so happy when they remind me, “That is our Christmas.”
This year, however, I’m more inclined to buy presents made or sold by local entrepreneurs I know and trust. Last Sunday, at our annual pre-“Nutcracker” brunch atop the Galt House, I gave my former TV co-host, Kathy Milby, and her children (my godchildren) bars of locally made soap engraved with Louisville’s signature fleur de lis. I had bought them 24 hours before, from Paul Brown of Earthy Browns Natural Products at a snowy Douglass Loop Farmers Market. Likewise, I shall stuff stockings with Primo oils and vinegars. I don’t know two better citizens than co-owners Bob Hundley and Beverly Bromley. Visit their tasting gallery at the Chenoweth Center on Brownsboro Road and let your love affair with salads begin in earnest.
I shall also give gift certificates for my favorite local restaurants. Lately, city leaders are seizing on the idea of using our food-and-drink supremacy as a dynamo of tourism. So let’s enjoy what’s left of our secret before throngs converge and waits lengthen.
Lastly, lest we forget, the greatest present is our total presence. Witnessing my Ballard classmate Susie Stevens and her husband, Greg Wood, at the top of their game in one of the last performances of “Tom Jones,” a raucous, ribald romp at Actors Theatre of Louisville, made me quite a spectacle.