Is there a perfect gift?

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

We are now perched on the cusp of our annual mega-shopping season.

In the few weeks before Christmas there is more than just a chill in the air — there is often a feeling of desperation, bordering on panic, as shoppers scramble to get the perfect gift for each person on their shopping list.

I think I’ve seen the “perfect gift” only one time in my life. You can be sure I bought it.

Several years ago, Debbie and I were shopping in our local Walmart. I know it was at least 15 years ago because Amanda was riding in the shopping cart. Several items had already been dropped into the basket, but we were apparently far from done. The “far from done” quote is a Debbie-quote, not a Randy-quote.

Debbie loves to shop. I hate it.

Shortly after we were married, I discovered my role during our shopping adventures. I am the pack-animal or the motor that moves the shopping cart. All the decision-making belongs to the lady who loves shopping. That would be Miss Debbie.

During this specific Walmart outing, I was motoring the cart between the toy aisles while teasing and tickling little Amanda. We were laughing and having fun while trying to closely follow the shopping-boss without clipping the back of her ankles with the cart. (I did that once. It was not pleasant.)

We rounded a corner when Amanda suddenly got very excited. She cried out, “Pappy, Pappy stop! Go back. Go back. Look, look, look!”

Hanging from a hook at the end of an aisle was a red, mesh bag filled with toy sporting items. There was a large plastic golf club, a huge, plastic baseball bat, a plastic football, baseball and two golf balls. All these items were crammed into a three-foot long red, mesh bag.

As I pulled the cart back toward the treasure, Amanda reached out and lovingly cradled the bag in her little arms. She held that bag of toys, looked up at me said, “Look, Pappy. It’s perfect.”


My granddaughter had found the perfect gift. I had no choice. As Amanda continued to smile and tell Memaw that she had found the perfect toy, I carefully placed it into the cart. There was no choice about whether we would buy it or not.

It had been declared “Perfect.” How often does that happen?

Thirty-two years ago, during our first Christmas together, I discovered the vast chasm that separates Debbie and me when it comes to shopping. Here’s an example: During the years that I was a single father, I would put off shopping until Christmas Eve. I would drop the boys off at their mother’s, then I would head to the Dayton Mall with power-shopping coursing through my veins.

I didn’t use a list. I knew who I was shopping for; Josh, Danny, Dede, Ellen, Vern, Hannah and Helen, parents, nieces and nephews, siblings and special friends. I just had no idea what I was going to buy them.

No problem. For me, it was easy.

One year, I ended up at Best Buy. It was late afternoon. Outside, the shadows were getting long.

Was I worried? Not a bit. I grabbed a cart and started tossing in toys, tools, games, anything I thought someone might want. My shopping fever grew. I was infected, so I grabbed another cart. It didn’t take long to fill both carts.

After about 45 minutes, I headed for the checkout lane, pushing one cart and pulling the other. I watched as each item went through the scanner and slid down the metal slide toward the bag-boy.

As those little treasures whizzed past me, I started deciding who was going to get what. It sounds slightly crazy, but it was actually fun.

When I got home, I got out my stash of wrapping paper, ribbon and tape. My old VCR tape of “It’s a Wonderful Life” was loaded into the tape player. I filled a glass with ice, opened a brand-new bottle of scotch, poured myself a manly helping of adult beverage and got to work wrapping and labeling.

To this day, wrapping our gifts while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and sipping an adult beverage is my tradition.

Debbie is more of a classic, deliberate shopper. When we used to shop for the family, she would make a list, ponder the list, edit the list and finally, when she was ready, we would set out on our shopping-mission. Those trips are well-planned by the shopping boss. My role was merely to push the cart and carry the bags.

Despite how much thought and effort went into the planning of those shopping trips, we have never found anything as perfect as that big bag of cheap little plastic toys.

In the movie “The Christmas Story,” Ralphie obsessed over getting an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock. He finally got it, but he could not have been more delighted than Amanda was when she received her “perfect gift” of a bag of cheap, plastic toys.

Keep looking. That perfect gift may not be expensive. It might be a cheap plastic toy.

Wrap it with love.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist