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I was in Portland last weekend and couldn’t believe the number of people I saw clogging the streets and sidewalks of that city’s fashionable Old Port district. From what I could tell most were shopping for holiday gifts.
You’d never see anything like that Down East where I come from. Not just because my hometown’s about one-fiftieth the size of Portland and we never get crowds of any size; and not just because our town has no port to speak of – old, new or otherwise – but because I’m sure that most people in my hometown have had all their shopping done for weeks now.
How do I know?
Well, according to local custom most everyone in our town begins their Christmas shopping around Memorial Weekend when yard sales begin to bloom on almost every Down East lawn. And every yard sale worth stopping at has all kinds of bargain-priced stuff that anyone on anyone’s gift list would be tickled to get. Why pay near-full price when you can get a almost-like-new item for loved ones for pennies on the dollar at a yard sale?
Last May I got into the Christmas spirit and started my gift list. After stocking up on Crisco and sugar so the wife could whip up a few batches of whoopie pies for my relatives with a sweet tooth (more about this fabulous gift later), I set off on my yard sale gift-buying. Right off, I got one of those clever combination vegetable chopper-unwanted hair remover apparatuses that I’d seen on late-night infomercials. Let me tell you, that was just perfect for my hirsute vegetarian cousin Ira. Won’t he be some pleased.
Yard sales are also ideal places to find other unique gifts, like barely used exericise equipment for your tubby relations, eight-track tapes for the musically inclined, empty yet highly collectible Avon bottles for the investment-minded, and slightly used Clappers, which are great as gifts for anyone but can also be used to turn your Christmas lights on and off with the clap of your hands, or a slam from a door, for that matter.
Folks Down East also like to make gifts for family members. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a dozen or so whoopie pies. You can whip up a batch anytime of year, as does my dear wife, since your average whoopie pie has a shelf life of a decade or two. Wrap those delicacies up in a festive box from the Dollar Store and you’re good to go. A frozen vat of corn chowder also will make someone on your list jump with joy. Who wouldn’t relish having this curious Maine winter dish – no meat, no fish, just milk, potato and, yes, corn – on hand when they’re just too busy to cook? I myself am pleased to receive practical gifts that I wouldn’t otherwise purchase, and you can’t get more practical than good old corn chowder.
If you don’t have time to bake or cook but still like the idea of food gifts, there are some top-notch presents to be found right at the Mom and Pop. A package you’ll be proud to give is a case of Moxie – the official soft drink of the state of Maine. Nothing says good taste like a bottle of stuff that tastes like well-used motor oil. Or, for your close friends who have been known to tip a few from time to time, how about a gallon of the state of Maine’s unofficial beverage, coffee brandy? I’ve seen more than a couple of those bottles opened up on early Christmas mornings and the gratitude from the recipients is unparalleled. Most of those gifts are emptied before the sun sets, but it’s the thought and not the longevity of the gift, unless you’re talking about the whoopie pies, that counts.
And, I’m certainly not one for shameless promotion, but for more gift ideas you might want to check through a book titled: “down the road a piece: A Storyteller’s Guide to Maine” or “A moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar.” Come to think of it you might want to give one of these books as a gift.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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