Back in 1975, Wooster resident Frank Hostnick won a table centerpiece at his 10-year class reunion.
“Won” probably isn’t the appropriate word. The centerpiece was, as he put is, “an ugly piece of driftwood with orange plastic flowers and small stones which had been given tiny eyes and feet.”
Yes, you read that right. Eyes and feet.
The prize might not have been much to look at, but it turned out to have its own sort of value. Over the years, the centerpiece has been the butt of countless laughs in Hostnick’s family.
It started being passed around in gift exchanges, but then the bar got raised. Soon family members were redecorating the centerpiece for various occasions, including spray painting it gold for Hostnick’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and dressing the stones in the fabric used for the bridesmaids’ dresses for his niece’s wedding.
It’s been hidden in houses and delivered anonymously to Hostnick’s doorstep and to his classroom at Wooster High School, where he taught English before retiring. The centerpiece has become such a part of the family, in fact, that it’s been given a name, Woody.
Hostnick and his family may have turned joke regifting into an art form, but they’re not alone in the practice. When I asked readers to tell me about the gifts that keep getting recirculated in their families, I got an email box full.
I heard about the serial regifting of a teddy bear and an electric bun warmer and a Looney Tunes lunchbox. I heard about the O’Neil’s box that’s been taped and reinforced repeatedly but still shows up under the tree each year in Cuyahoga Falls resident Marie Rockhold’s family. I even heard from Doylestown resident Barbara Dannemiller about some polka dot earmuffs originally given to her son by his sister, only to discover after an email exchange that the perpetrator was my longtime friend Mary Dannemiller Holleran.
Crystal Dunstan of Wadsworth wrote to tell me about the little plastic cat that’s been making the rounds of her gift-giving circle, which she first received at a Christmas party for her church’s fellowship group. You press its legs on a firm surface, and a little treat like a raisin or a Sugar Baby pops out — through a hole under the tail. As Dunstan put it, “this gift keeps giving.”
Or going, perhaps.
In Nancy Vernon’s family, the boomerang gift is an outfit of mostly 1970s clothing that’s been passed around for more than 20 years, each time with something new added. The gift comes with a requirement: The recipient has to model the outfit, said Vernon, who lives in Akron’s Fairlawn Heights. That usually means it goes to the new brides in the family, because they can fit in it, she said.
Sports loyalties figured into some of the regifting. Lifelong Browns fan Joseph Csipke of Akron, for example, said he’s been trying for years to give back the musical Pittsburgh Steelers football he got from his nephew and sports-team rival, Ian McVey of Stow. But the football keeps coming back to him — last year, with a couple of Steelers books added.
My favorite part of Csipke’s story, though, was his description of McVey: He’s a great nephew, a good student and an all-around good kid, he said, “other than being a Steelers fan.”
Fellow Browns fan Dianne Kauffman’s family has been passing around a bottle of Dawg Bite juice since the novelty drink was sold to mark the success of a long-ago Browns team.
If you’re a Cleveland sports fan, you have a pretty good idea of just how ancient that bottle must be. The orange liquid has since turned brown, and the gift-givers have to handle the bottle with care so it doesn’t implode, said Kauffman, who lives in Sugar Bush Knolls.
The family members take pains to wrap the gift in a way that disguises its contents. It’s been hidden in sneakers, nestled in a coat jacket and wrapped inside a large appliance box that was weighted to throw off the recipient. When folks started becoming suspicious of any gift from the person who received the bottle the previous year, the family stepped up its game. Now the recipient sneaks it into the home of another family member during the year, who then wraps it yet again for the exchange.
Sure enough, Kauffman found it earlier this month in a box of Christmas decorations. Her family members might want to suspect any gift that comes from her, but I have a hunch she’ll find a way to throw them off.
But arguably the oddest gift to make the rounds belongs alternately to Rittman Mayor Bill Robertson and his sister, Elizabeth Stewart.
Since their father died in 2007, they’ve been continually regifting his Stim-U-Lax handheld scalp massager. The frightening-looking device was originally purchased in 1950 by their grandfather, James Lewis. On Oct. 16, to be exact. They still have the documentation.
The vibrator, which weighs more than a pound and a half, was intended for use by barbers and is supposed to move the user’s fingers to massage the head. But Robertson said it’s a little more sinister than it’s touted to be.
“Our experience was that it just about vibrated the fillings out of our teeth and made our eyeballs bounce around in their sockets,” he wrote. “Our dogs would run around the house petrified of the fiendish noisemaker.”
Their father liked it, even though he probably shouldn’t have. “It was the worst thing in the world for our dad because he had a stroke when he was in his 30s and never should have been vibrating his brain,” he said, “but he used it nonetheless.”
As kids, Robertson and Stewart would torture each other with the Stim-U-Lax. Now they torture each other by gifting it back and forth — sometimes beautifully wrapped under the tree, with a touching card attached to throw off the recipient; sometimes given for a birthday; sometimes delivered by UPS with a bogus return address. Last Father’s Day, it was stuffed into Robertson’s golf bag, and he played two rounds before he discovered why the bag seemed so heavy.
The gift brings with it the requirement that the recipient strap it on for five minutes, “or until they lose the feeling in their hand,” Robertson said.
Nothing says you care like a little sibling torment.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.