The Gift of Yellowing Pages

(published 11 January 2015, MST)

Must presents always be shiny and new?
I know it’s two weeks into the new year already and the holidays seem like a long time ago. I just cannot help telling this Kris Kringle story. This really happened, and it raised questions on how different people view things differently—and whether one point of view is more right than the other.
Grade school Boy drew the name of Girl in their class exchange gift. Boy was not able to attend the party though and only remembered that he still owed a gift to Girl on the evening before classes resumed.
Trying to come up with a good solution, Boy’s Mother asked him to describe Girl—her interests, preferences. Boy said that he knew Girl liked to read.
Mother was delighted.In their home library were hundreds of books—classics, science fiction, mystery, contemporary. Some of the books she bought herself. Many were given by a bibliophile friend who was making room on her shelves for more books to be acquired.
Now, not every member of Boy’s family is an avid reader, but Mother and Older Sister 1 are literature majors. Older Sister 2 is a fan of bestselling young adult novels. Mother, herself, wishes she had more time to read.
Among the unread books in the home library were 1965 editions of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy—The Fellowship of the Ring,The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The trilogy, first published in 1954, has in recent years been successfully made into movies.
Mother herself preferred genres other than fantasy. She treasured the books, though, since they were given to her by her friend, and because they were books—sources of knowledge, entertainment, reflections, even epiphanies, sometimes.  In fact, she wished that other members of the household—even their helper who was so taken with romance paperbacks—would pick these up and read them.
The next best thing was to give them to somebody whose imagination would perhaps be stimulated by the fantasy trilogy.
Mother dusted off the three books and put them inside a bright red paper bag. She knew that her friend would not mind that she was giving away some of the books. The more pair of eyes go through the pages, the better.
Imagine thus Mother’s surprise when the following afternoon, Boy told her that he brought the books back home because Girl, upon opening the package, threw them on a chair.
“She thought I was joking,” he said.
Girl likely did not expect a set of three dusty books from 1965 with yellowing pages. But did she have to throw them?
Then again, Girl was a child. What was worse was that Boy got a reprimand from Teacher, who told him that he did not make an effort in preparing for his gift to Girl.
Well, it was true that the gift did not quite make the P300 requirement for the exchange gift. Boy did not buy it—in fact, it was also just given to his family. It was also true that it was a last resort because when Boy remembered he had to bring a gift, the malls were closed already.
Mother however could not shake off the feeling that something was wrong.
First, recent editions of the three books could go well up to more than a thousand pesos. Then again, aren’t vintage finds more pricey?  Even then, price is not always equal to value. Think Booksale. Think the Anvil sale at National Bookstore last year. Less than P500 can make you a Very Rich Person for all the treasures you could haul.
Second, were we not taught that we should accept the gifts given to us and not return them—much less throw them as any spoiled brat would—when we don’t like them?
Third, teachers are supposed to understand the value of reading and encourage their students to read whatever they can, especially in this age of technology (i.e., instant gratification). Don’t we say children who read grow into adults who think?
To put the incident behind them all, Boy’s Older Sister 2 helped him get a new shirt for Girl and wrap it in shiny Christmas paper. The following morning, Boy went to school hoping that Girl and Teacher would be pleased with the shirt and that they would not think he did not make the effort. True enough, his new offering was received without complaint.
The three Tolkiens are back on the shelves in Boy’s house. Perhaps they are waiting for a worthier pair of eyes to read them.  Eyes that would make the effort to see through the old publication date and the yellowing pages.
Eyes that would realize how most of the time, we get distracted by packaging and overlook treasures that are right in front of us.