My Mother’s Advice

I have to get this off my chest. I have a strong memory from when I was a kid, probably the 2nd or 3rd grade, standing around in our big kitchen talking with my mother. Somehow, we were discussing jobs. I have no idea why this topic had come up, but I do remember talking about one of my favorite places in town, the Post Office. My Uncle Al worked there. He had been a police officer but then switched careers to work for the Post Office. Everything about the Post Office was great — I loved the building and the large WPA murals, especially the one of John Brown who had lived in my town. I loved looking at the “wanted posters,” and the high counters, and how much like a bank it felt. I loved banks, too.
When talking about my Uncle, my mother used the phrase, “Civil Servant,” and I didn’t know what she meant. It’s funny that I remember her saying that phrase. She then told me that if, when I grew up, I took a test and got a job with “The Government,” it would be a “good job.” From what I knew then, a “good job” was one that paid you well and gave you “security.” I thought that meant you didn’t get fired.
A “good job” was nice, but “I remember wondering if I could get a “big job.” Important people had “big jobs.” My Aunt Bea always talked about people with “big jobs.” But the part of the conversation that impressed me most was when my mother said, “If you get a job with “The Government,” “The Government” will take care of you.”
“The Government” will take care of me? I figured it must be a big deal to become one of these Civil Servants, because you have to take and pass a test. I knew Uncle Al was a smart man. The test part scared me. But my mother assured me I would get a “good paycheck and have insurance.” I remember feeling happy that my mother thought that I could pass this test. I had no idea where one took the test, but I figured she would tell me when I was older.  
I remember, too, wondering about the insurance part. The only insurance I knew about was the [life] insurance payments my parents made to the man from “The Insurance Company” every month. He drove to our house in a nice car wearing a suit and a smile. My parents had a little payment book and he would fill in a page every time they paid him. They would sit around the kitchen table. I liked him. He gave me and my brother a shiny new penny every time he came. When my mother talked about insurance with “The Government” job, I didn’t know if she was referring to another Insurance Man, but I figured it must be important. I also especially remember thinking it would be nice to work for the Post Office in that fabulous building, just like my Uncle Al.
As I reflect on this, I find myself thinking something sad. There have been a few moments during some very difficult times over the years that I have thought, “I’m glad my father/ mother isn’t here now to see this.” I especially thought this after 9/11; my dad, a World War II veteran, died in 1996. I remember feeling strongly that the horrors of that awful day and the ramifications of what happened would have been so overwhelming, so upsetting for him, that I would have had to shield him from them somehow.
My mother died several years ago. And today I find myself thinking, with profound sadness, “I am glad my mother isn’t here right now to witness this shutdown.” Many people, including a close family member, work for “The Government.” Someone I know not only has a “good job,” he has a “big job.”  But he can neither work nor be paid.  My mother’s trust, her faith, her knowledge that “The Government” will take care of you, has been proven false. This shutdown would have rocked my mother to the core.
I know it’s rocking me to my core.
Kathy Galgano
January 15, 2019


By this time each year, most of my Christmas presents have been bought. They would still be unwrapped, though. To tell you the truth, I loathe wrapping. And with Christmas presents, wrapping is a double whammy. Each gift first must be placed in a tissue-arranged flimsy white box that needs assembly, and I spend so much time on this tissue paper business that inevitably I shred or tear it and either have to bury that piece at the bottom of the box or start anew, again attempting to approximate it “just so.” In other words, when the gift is opened, I pray the recipient doesn’t think a preschooler prepared it. Next, I wrap the present in the pretty paper, trying not to get my hair in the tape, and I have no idea how this happens, or twist the tape, and struggling with the corners. I tie a ribbon around it and this may take a few tries, and affix the label so everybody knows which gift is theirs, and write “fragile” on the box and “perishable” if I’ve included my trademark chocolate brownies. Then I head to the garage for a bigger shipping carton, which to me is a euphemism for box. I find the bubble wrap or those dreaded peanuts that get all over the place, and I need a ton of packing tape. Sometimes I have to wrap the shipping box in brown paper, so then I cut up paper grocery bags and tape them together, and remember to put the box against the printed side of the paper so the unmarked side is on the outside. Out comes the Sharpie and I can finally address the big carton, again, writing “fragile” all over it because I was foolish enough to buy breakable things, and scribbling “perishable” next to all the “fragile” markings. I place the completed, double-wrapped and addressed box on the stairs near the door. Phew. That’s one. There are lots more. Then, hours later, I make several trips to the car, and drive to the Post Office. It takes several more trips to the counter, and I lock the car each time I walk away from it. Finally I get to swipe a credit card and go back to the car and think, Why, Oh Why didn’t I just buy gift cards?

Well, sometimes I do buy a gift card or two, especially for family members who love boating or photography and who are purchasing a new widget for their avocation, but usually, I go the traditional route. I might be on a trip, or at a crafts fair or a market, or just “out” and I find that perfect something that just yells the recipient’s name. And as my brain is not wired to cut me off, and does not scream back to me, “No. Don’t buy that! It’s a weird size and will never fit in a box. It’s going to break! Are you crazy? You will need two miles worth of packing rolls to get that across country. It’s way too heavy. Shipping will cost you double the gift amount. You will need a refrigerator box to mail it and where are you going to find that? No. No. No!,” I bring the coveted item home. Then I put it in a safe place for months, and come December, I tear apart every single closet in the house to find this stuff. This is my annual personal holiday routine that drives me to consume most every green, red and silver-wrapped Chocolate Kiss in the house.

But I love it. Not the wrapping, I enjoy the hunt of finding something that a friend or family member might consider “on the mark” and with luck, “just right.” I’m sure I’ve been off that mark, but I hope not too many times. I have come across beautiful jewelry, theme-inspired and artistic scarves and neckties, and loads of interesting books at shops in museums or historical sites, and I have also bought autographed books after attending lectures. I’ve walked into CD shops on my travels and asked about the local sound so I can purchase the music of a new group or an up-and-coming voice. I’ve bought colorful batik purses, beautiful needlepoint works which I’ve framed for the recipient, and earthen-toned hand woven placemats and runners, all for Christmas presents. In the Southwest, I found that pair of cuff links one family member requested, fashioned from silver by a Navajo jewelry maker. I buy soaps, homemade jellies, lotions and wines from a local area when I travel, and love the hand fashioned wax candles I bought last year at my own farmers’ market. Of course, I do go to the big stores on occasion, but usually that is where I feel most overwhelmed. One year I bought most of my presents at a hospital gift shop; all the proceeds went to fund the care of underinsured or uninsured pediatric patients. I buy from small businesses and craft fair booths, and have loved items I’ve selected from vintage stores and even recycled fashion stores. I’ve framed collectors’ stamps and once bought a Roman coin for a family member. Like I said, it’s all in the hunt.

Yet, every season, when we have put away the wrappings and taken the ornaments off the tree, I am afflicted by this deep sadness. I know it is a direct result of my gift giving. It’s not that I’m unhappy with my choices because I know I had a blast shopping for these personal gifts. It’s not that my gifts arrived broken; my packing is usually more than adequate. Well, except for the time I listened to a clerk at the Post Office who said it was unnecessary to reinforce each seam and side with packing tape, even using the word “overkill,” I believe. So I didn’t purchase more tape while at the counter and did it her way. Naturally, that box was delivered exposed to the elements, and rain water soaked through to the gift. Now I tape everything and never accept another word on this topic. And lastly, it’s not that the recipients hated the gifts; au contraire, people seem to enjoy them.

No, what really gets me is that after each year’s holiday buying frenzy nationwide, when every news source announces the long-awaited retail shopping consumer statistics, those very numbers that predict whether businesses are going to have a good year or a subpar one, I know the data are not accurate because they fail to include my January through December year-round gift-buying sprees. Either I have shopped too early, or in the “wrong” places, (think “non-mall” shops) or both. And naturally, I take this personally.

Ah well, this doesn’t stop me from relying on entrepreneurs and shops that support good causes for my Christmas presents, but I’m hoping the government will come up with some kind of new category to represent the folks (I know I can’t be the only one doing this) buying throughout the year and in non-mall stores. In the meantime, I have to be happy that I’m doing my part for the shipping industry. I buy so many rolls of packing tape that you could re-roof your house, and still have some left over to make the garage roof watertight, too. And of course, I know I do my part for the hair product industry; you have no idea how many products I buy each January to repair my tresses after using all that tape!

Kathy Galgano

October 28, 2013