It's been many years since my extended family and I decided to stop giving each other holiday gifts. We are all adults, and we all have enough stuff — okay, most of us have too much stuff. And once we were all gainfully employed, we tended to buy any more stuff we really wanted for ourselves, usually within moments after we first realized we wanted it.
Isn't that the American way?
Even so, that doesn't mean we don't give. We just give to people to whom we are not related. The amounts aren't large, by any means, but I like to think that if many of us give, they'll add up. You may already have your own list, but my two favorites are right in the community, where I can actually see my gift at work:
At the top is The Angelus, a cluster of lovely homes and recreation facilities off Hudson Avenue for developmentally disabled adults and young people. It's nestled in a large wooded area, where it was started 25 years ago by living saints Pauline and Dave Shaver, with an assist from the late Richard Cadoret, Pauline's brother. It has grown into a network with scores of supporters, friends and volunteers, including country singer Charlie Daniels and the Ridgewood High School Interact Club, but it can always use more.
You can see for yourself what a terrific place this is at the annual Christmas pageant, which the residents will present at 6:30 p.m. today, Sunday and Dec. 17 and 18. It's free — their gift to us — but you can still sneak them a check or mail one to The Angelus, 12413 Hudson Ave., Hudson, FL 34669. No matter how large or how small, your gift will be put to good use.
My other favorite is the Humane Society of Pasco County Inc., which sheltered the late Bustopher Jones II, a large gray and white cat with two little tufts of gray hair on his tummy — which looked like the buttons on a tux — and white feet and stockings that made him look just like T.S. Eliot's Bustopher Jones "in white spats" in Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, thus his name.
Even though my current cat, Snickers, was rescued from a snowdrift in Salt Lake City, I will always be grateful to the local Humane Society for taking care of Bustopher until we could find each other, and he could turn me into a confirmed Cat Lover. That's why I send a gift to them at P.O. Box 10, Elfers, FL 34680 (and every little bit helps), but there are other Humane Societies that can use donations, too, so it's worth the effort to find them.
Others on my list are my sanitation engineers, Josh and Brian, and my recycling man, Herbert, who, year after year, come quietly in the night — be there rain, sleet, frost, mosquitoes, hot, sticky temperatures or even threatening hurricanes — to whisk away the flotsam and jetsam of my life.
My neighbor once arose at 4 a.m. to make sure her check got into their hands, but I take the easy route and mail a personal check to them at their place of employment, trusting that it gets to them.
And I remember my St. Petersburg Times delivery man, Michael, who rides the lonely and sometimes dangerous roads in the darkness of night so that My Favorite Newspaper is waiting for me when I finally do get my lazy self out of bed in the morning for that first cup of coffee and a bracing encounter with the Opinion page.
I know that these people are paid, but their neat, consistent and reliable work is that something extra that makes my life easier and better and is worth something extra from me.
BUT IF YOU SIMPLY CAN'T RESIST …
And if you simply must buy a gift for someone special, may I suggest gift certificates from our local theaters.
There is a banquet of simply fantastic shows coming up in January (and beyond) at all three:
A hilarious musical with a message, Hairspray, will be at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, starring Matthew McGee as the plus-sized Edna Turnblad (John Travolta played Edna in the movie version) and Sara Del Beato as her daughter, Tracy, who longs not only to be on the Corny Collins dance show, but also to desegregate it. It's set in 1950s Baltimore and has a great story, as well as one of the best songs ever, You Can't Stop the Beat. Dinner and show are about $52 a person, a nice gift for someone you love.
At Richey Suncoast Theatre in New Port Richey, it's The Foreigner, a clever, sharp, energetic comedy/farce about hypocrisy, racism, stereotyping, secrets and lies, with tickets at $17.
And local audiences will have the rare opportunity to see one of the most acclaimed plays in theater, Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire, at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill, with tickets at $15.
Director Dalton Benson's cast is relatively young, just as Williams intended and as it opened in 1947 on Broadway (Marlon Brando was just 24 when he played Stanley Kowalski). It's a gritty, disturbing, ground-breaking drama, a must-see for lovers of serious theater.