By Kelly Hines

I’d always start looking for it around the first of December – the package from my Great Aunt Marge. It would be accompanied by a card with several Precious Moments-type figures on the front, each one labeled with one of our names. “Kelly”, it might say in old lady scrawl above the pretty little girl. “Auntie Margaret”, might be the bird flying above her head. My children’s names would be written above puppy dogs, ladybugs, and rosy cheeked babies.

The package itself would contain a treasure from the thrift store, almost always out of date or unusable. What, exactly, could a person do with a calendar from 1992? One year, I unwrapped a cream colored robe, which was actually quite lovely. I unfolded it. And unfolded it some more. And some more. When I put it on, it trailed the floor by a good 8 inches. “I saw this and thought of you, because you’re so tall,” the card read.

I’m 5’6”. Barely.

As Aunt Marge entered her 80s, she became more eccentric and less concerned with what anyone thought. To my horror, I caught her drinking from a bottle of my breast milk that was in the refrigerator. “OH MAH GAWD,” I yelled. She just shrugged her shoulders. “I wanted to see what it tasted like,” she said. She had little regard for rules, and allowed her great-great nieces to act like complete hooligans. I watched my four year old daughter play in a large trashcan of mud in her underwear for several hours, because Aunt Marge said she could.

Aunt Marge quietly quasi-adopted area children. She became their de facto grandmother – hosting tea parties and scavenger hunts and offering her own brand of advice, whether they wanted it or not. “Do you think you might be a lesbian?”, she asked me when I was 16. “No, I’m pretty sure I’m not a lesbian.” I said. She put her arm around me and gave me a squeeze. “It’s okay if you are,” she said, “or you might just be going through a phase.” She winked knowingly.

She said things that were wildly inappropriate because she knew she could. She told jokes that made me blush. And then she’d turn around and be so tender it would break my heart. She was, just like her gifts – incredibly genuine and hardly ever practical.

When Aunt Marge died several years ago, she left a hole that can not be filled by another package in the mail. I find myself thinking of her as I rush around in these final days, looking for something to wrap up and put under the tree, just to have something there. I think of those impractical and outdated gifts, which despite their silliness, were chosen with great forethought and care. I think of her doing things because she wanted to do them, and how she allowed the people around her the grace to relax.

As you rush around today, trying to get everything perfect, I want you to think of my Great Aunt Marge. With her strange gifts and bawdy jokes and indelicate manner of addressing everything. She never got it perfect, but she always got it right.

Merry Christmas.