When A Gift Has to Say “Love,” Buy It In Skippack

My dad and I at a baseball game last year.

My dad and I at a baseball game last year.

My dad, Bernie Shaw, will turn 90 years old this year. Choosing a gift is not going to be easy. For more years than I care to admit to, I have been buying birthday and Father’s Day gifts for dad; as we approach the venerable 90th what gift item is left that has not been given already?

How the Tie Came to Die

Countless ties have been purchased, wrapped, and handed over: I like bright colors and crazy designs. At one point, dad, who favors a more classic style in ties, said to me, “please don’t buy any more ties for me, Michael.”

The Great War Becomes a Bore

When Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation was a hot seller. my mom, brother, sister and I began focusing on items with a World War II theme; dad served as a bombardier in the Army Air Corp during the war, by luck narrowly avoiding some dangerous missions.

We bought dad history books and a CD with music of World War II and one with recordings of great speeches of the war. We bought him biographies of great leaders like Roosevelt and Truman. After several big-war-themed birthdays and Father’s Days, I learned that even the greatest moments in history cannot withstand bombardment from an endless barrage of increasingly predictable gifts; even the greatest heroes of a great generation can be eviscerated by too many trips to the shopping mall.

Other Gifts Not Up to Par

My father Bernie Shaw while serving as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corp during the Second World War.

My father Bernie Shaw while serving as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corp during the Second World War.

Dad does not play golf, and a shopping trip to a conventional mall (oh, how I feel for people who have not discovered Skippack) indicates that lack-of-golf-interest eliminates 90% of tchotchkes manufactured for men. He enjoys watching sports, but is not enough of a fan to justify purchase of sports memorabilia or clothing items that carry a team’s logo: Just don’t do justice to the man.

The problem with most material items we give as gifts, especially to our parents and other family members in golden years, is they are too simple to be symbols of our feelings as we mature. One hallmark of adult life, once we leave the parental nest, is that love becomes deeper and more complex and defies simple representation.

Forgiving and Kind, but Not Always Simple

For people lucky enough to be born into a good family, leaving the home of one’s parents and going out into the world can be akin to being expelled from the Garden of Eden. But while we think that being expelled from the Garden of Eden is a curse, it is possibly our greatest blessing. There must be weakness and failure, so that the people who love us can prove their commitment to us when we are weak and fail them; and so we can prove our commitment to the people we love, when they are weak and fail us. There must be wrongs and anger, if we are to develop the sacred mental discipline of forgiving. Only in our stumbling upon the stones and thorns of this earth and living with our own imperfection do we discover the power and potential of human love.

And for dad, it must be a gift of my own choosing: not something that he or mom asked me to buy. This gift must tell them that, while I love them, I am still carving out my unique, original path.

Perhaps the best gifts we give are parents and grandparents are the finger-paintings we bring home from kindergarten because they contain something of our very souls, but I am getting older now, and my finger-painting skills are rusty.

A tall order for a gift, to bear the meaning of my father’s 90th birthday. Fortunately, I live in Skippack.

Take One Lesson and Turn It Into A Gift

The sign in front of Miss Riddle's Candy Shop in Skippack Village during a snow storm the month before my father's 90th birthday.

The sign in front of Miss Riddle’s Candy Shop during a snow storm the month before my father’s 90th birthday.

There are not words enough in a blog post or gifts enough in the world to express everything that I have learned from my father. But walking up and down main street in Skippack Village, as I passed the large pink and white striped sign for Miss Riddle’s Candy Shop, an idea began to formulate.

My father was born blessed with an innate happiness. Although raised in the deprivation of the great depression, he retains a remarkable capacity to enjoy life and partake of its pleasures, if always in a moderate and sensible way.

One way dad expresses his love for life is his love for chocolate. He has a chocolate dessert with nearly every meal, usually a chocolate flavor of ice cream like mint chocolate chip. He loves it; as well as coffee in the morning and a vodka martini every evening around 6:30 pm. If you ask Bernie Shaw the secret of staying healthy for 90 years, he will tell you: chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol. Luck doesn’t hurt either.

I think it was actually my wife Debby, Mrs. Skippack Blogger, who came up with the idea. But at once we both knew it was right: A gift basket filled with gourmet chocolate from Miss Riddle’s Candy Shop in Skippack (Like the Miss Riddle’s Facebook page).

In Skippack, the Experience Becomes Part of the Gift

Charlie king, co-owner of Miss Riddle's Candy Shop in Skippack Village, with a basket of chocolates he prepared for my father's birthday.

Charlie king, co-owner of Miss Riddle’s Candy Shop in Skippack Village, with a basket of chocolates he prepared for my father’s birthday.

Debby and I knew at once that this was something my parents would never expect. Dad would understand the gift instinctively: Thank you for teaching me to savor the everyday sweetness of life.

But the meaning of the gift came as much from the process of buying it as it did from the object itself. We have long admired the shop owners, the husband and wife team of Charlie King and Aimee Rush, for the beautiful store environment they created and their friendly-yet-professional style.

Charlie came to the store special for us to create the basket. We delighted in making selections from the incredible variety of chocolates: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, truffles, Wilbur chocolate, 75% cacao, 85% cacao, familiar brands like Hershey and Cadbury and hard-to-find artisan chocolates made by hand. Charlie gathers our selection and lovingly assembles a gift basket. We add two beautiful blown-glass orange martini glasses in honor of dad’s nightly vodka martini.

The night of gift buying is as joyful as a birthday celebration, hanging out with Charlie and Aimee, their beautiful daughter Rose, and the customers who come into the store while our gift is lovingly prepared. The spirit of Skippack enters the gift basket and it is good enough for dad.

What is Written in the Card

Happy 90th Dad. Please enjoy the basket of chocolates from Miss Riddles Candy Shop in Skippack. And thank you for believing in me, my individuality, and my writing. You are still my dad. Love, Michael.

Chocolate for dad from Miss Riddle's Candy Shop in Skippack: At 90 years old, life is still sweet.

Chocolate for dad from Miss Riddle’s Candy Shop in Skippack: At 90 years old, life is still sweet.

My dad giving a talk to the family in a few weeks before his 90th birthday.

The greatest gift: words of love and wisdom. My dad giving a talk to the family a few weeks before his 90th birthday. May my words be worthy.