Christmas composition with evergreen branches and gift on blue space.

Taylor Hagood: Gift Ideas for the Hard-to-Buy-For

The time of year has arrived when a great many people are buying gifts for friends and family. With one nephew aged five and another aged two, my bank account has a way of spinning like the dials on a slot machine until they all turn up apples. I have learned that there are creatures in the sea named Octonauts and creatures on land called the Paw Patrol, all of whom desperately need my business. And I am more than glad to oblige for as long as I can keep up.

It occurs to me that it would be doing the readers of Throomers a service to provide some gift ideas, whether for the holiday season or for any other time when they are called for. Naturally, these ideas are for the people in your life who are most difficult to buy for (why would you need help with the others?). Having grown up in what, I have come to decide, was a unique household, I feel somewhat qualified to offer a few options. I have always harbored admiration for folks who are perfectly content to receive golf balls or button-downs (apparently the kinds of gifts John D. Rockefeller was apt to give John, Jr.). But some folks are not so easy to please. So here are a few ideas.

A Tank

I do not mean one of those little toy ones that boys of my generation and earlier tended to lodge and even lost in dirt halfway through the summer. No, I mean the actual big tanks such as real soldiers drive around and shoot things down with. This idea came from my grandfather, I am proud to say. I believe he drove one or two around during World War II, and he always regretted that he did not get to keep one. I know this because, even though he was a man of few words, whenever he found himself in heavy traffic (that is traffic on a highway), he would quietly remark, “I wish I had a tank.”

He was not a patient man, and he was not slow. Everywhere he went and everything he did was fast. Once, when I was little, I had the life-altering experience of riding with him on a camping trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee. At that time, only a narrow road wound around the mountainsides with sheer drop-offs that made it seem we were driving straight into the sky, especially at a healthy 85 miles-per-hour. As the tires would cling to the road with all their might and I trembled on the floorboard, my grandfather would laugh, hold up a hooked finger, and say, “Taylor, that’s a hair-pin curve.”

Windy roads in north Alabama and middle Tennessee marked his preferred tracks, so when he found himself stuck in a line of cars it was all he could stand. I have often wondered if he not only wished for but played out in his mind how he would drive a Sherman tank right over the plastic-y cars, the chains of the wheels clinking as they mashed the vehicles into flatness. I am not sure he remembered people were actually driving those vehicles.

A Theremin

For the musically inclined, I must recommend this, the first ever electric instrument. It was invented by a Russian scientist named Léon Theremin. The instrument makes an uncanny sound that could easily be mistaken for either a violin or a human voice. It was the perfect instrument for mid-century horror films, which made liberal use of it, and also for the Beach Boys’ song, “Good Vibrations.”

The Theremin is a box with an antenna rising from one end on top and another rod bent into a “u” on the opposite end. The u-shaped rod is played with the one hand and affects the volume, while the other hand’s proximity to the antenna makes the notes. I am happy to say that a graduate class of mine gave me one of these a few years ago, and I found it to be somewhat like learning to fly on the trapeze—easy enough to do, almost impossible to be good at.

Yes, your gift recipient will need to work on this one. It requires severe bodily control. The instrument is tuned (with a dial) to the spread of one’s open hand, which describes an octave. Then one must make very tightly-controlled finger positions in order to play a scale. Precision is absolutely key, not just with the hand but even with the body, because the least little sway will throw the whole thing off. I have to say I never realized the infinitesimal sways my body does when I think I am standing perfectly still.

The Theremin will challenge a musician but has the distinction of rarely being duplicated as a gift.

An Arowana

For any dear one with an aquarium, the silver arowana is a must. I learned about it in my childhood when my father had a 150-gallon aquarium (he had a smaller one also, kept in my room, in which he once put piranhas, which is a story for another time). This fish looks like a knife blade with the sharp edge thinned to waving translucence. The tang of the knife (the fish’s head) is dominated by two massive eyes, a frowning downturn of mouth, and two antennae-like protuberances from its lower lip that look something like a snake’s split tongue frozen in extension.

The arowana’s natural habitat is the Amazon, where it can grow to at least six feet and is capable of jumping out of the water and eating bugs and maybe even small monkeys from overhanging tree limbs. Its power lies in its vision and simple design for striking. It stalks in a sinister glide just under the surface of the water until it spots prey and gathers its great steel-muscle sleek of a body and launches itself from the river with terrible accuracy to snatch the insect from the limb in its body-width mouth. This propensity for jumping makes it a difficult fish to keep—one must secure the plastic lids of the aquariums with black electrical tape. Inevitably, when my dad had these fish, my mother or I would come into the living room in the morning to find the beloved arowana lying on the floor. Sometimes they survived; sometimes they were dead before my father could do anything.

But the grief was worth it for my father. He would sit for hours watching this fish keep up its constant pacing, and he took especial pleasure in feeding the arowana, which required a special process because the arowana held only disdain for regular flaky fish food, swimming through the particolored cloud with no interest at all. No, my father would have to hand feed the arowana, dropping a guppy right in the path of the looming silver knife. Without changing its pace at all and with no preparation or telegraphing visible to the naked eye, the arowana’s glistening body would explode in a glittering smash, the mouth gulping and clamping back shut only in the vague photo-negative realm of after-image that it took a human mind to grasp what had happened, at which point the arowana had progressed on its way.

As you can see, hours of enjoyment.

A Goat

This one is a nod to my mother, who apparently won a goat one year at the county fair. Winning meant taking it home, and my mother thought it a cute creature. And they are really very cute. They have the cutest way of ramming into your leg and leaving a nice black and blue bruise. They also do one the service of cleaning up the house and yard both, for it seems there is nothing they will not eat. In fact, if it seems that I am doubling up on pets, let me say that I do not classify a goat in that category at all. I place it instead in the category of, well, goat.

I also give a nod to a man named Eldon Rodgers, who lived in Tullahoma, Tennessee, and won I do not know how many medals in World War II combat. The one and only time I met him he was pretty old, so I suspect he has passed away by now. But then again maybe not because he had survived just about everything there was to survive. He had stepped on at least two mines and been blown to smitherines and put back together again. Then, when he had survived war, he found himself in the grip of cancer some seventeen different times and in various parts of the body. None of that could touch him. So I really cannot imagine what could kill him. He must be about the toughest fellow I ever met.

But he had a soft side, and it was reserved for goats. He kept a little herd of them in the back of the house. And he loved to watch and care for them. But I do not believe the lucky person you will be giving a goat will necessarily have to keep it outside. They will do just fine inside too. They can eat tin just as well as grass and tree bark.

You’re Welcome

I know these gift ideas will be useful for you in finding something for those in your life who want the unusual. No need to credit me when your loved one opens one of these presents—feel free to accept the showered appreciation for yourself. In the meantime, I will be thinking about more gifts for the future. Already a car is coming to mind: a Cord, 812, coffin nose convertible, 1937 model, just in case anyone is looking to get me something . . . .