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Holiday Gift Ideas From a 93-Year-Old Great-Grandmother

Socks, slippers and boxes of candy aren't nearly as precious as simple gifts of time — even virtually

By Mary Lou Wilson

Every holiday season I hear from loved ones that they have no idea what to get me. That happens once you have orbited the sun more than 90 times, like I have.

Grandparents window shopping with their grandchild. Next Avenue, gift ideas
Credit: Getty

While I love staying warm on snowy winter nights, how many pairs of socks and slippers does one person need? My neighbors and I have more puzzles than we can possibly do in the time we have left. And because another well-intentioned bag of candy or box of chocolates might push me into diabetes (I'm not getting as many visitors since COVID-19 and feel obligated not to waste the delicious treats), I decided younger people — those under 80 — might need some ideas of useful and welcomed gifts for the older people in their lives.

Here are my suggestions, grouped by categories:

Chauffeuring To Favorite Places

Your older relative or friend most likely stopped driving after dark a while ago and may not be comfortable driving on highways or in heavy traffic anymore. Because of this, a nighttime ride to see the Christmas lights might be a joy-inducing gift, as would taking great-grandma to visit a childhood friend for an afternoon or taking a day trip to the town where grandpa grew up.

You could also take grandma to her favorite shop — one that has a spot for her to rest once she's done and you're still shopping. Or drive her to services or a festival at a church or temple she belonged to for years.

I decided younger people — those under 80 — might need some ideas of useful and welcomed gifts for the older people in their lives.

You could also drive your older relative or friend to a nearby museum, planetarium, science center, conservatory or aviary. Arrange for an electric wheelchair if needed, though let them wander on their own if they want and linger in the areas that interest them; you can do the same.

The last time my son visited, he drove me to the town where I grew up. We spent the time chatting about my childhood as we drove past the schools I went to, the houses I lived in and the church I attended. Then we spent the afternoon where he and his siblings grew up. and where I lived for 50 years.

We were flooded with happy memories of family, childhood and friends as we drove around the old neighborhoods.

Helpful Acts of Service

Additional acts of service include: checking their car's fluids and tires to ensure the auto is safe for those quick daytime trips they still make; picking up groceries, medication or other necessities; taking grandma for a manicure or pedicure or grandpa for a massage (and paying for the treatment).

Or, if you love to cook, make a batch of your older neighbor's favorite soup or meal and gift it to him in frozen, single-serving containers. Or order them a meal from their favorite local restaurant and have it delivered. I love when I have quick and easy meals I don't have to prepare myself.

Photos We Can Frame — And We Have The Frames

While I love the texted photos I get from family, my mobile phone is small and complicated and it is challenging to find what I want on it again. The best material gift for a grandma or grandpa is a recent, close-up photo of the precious faces of the grandchildren.

We like something that can be held in the hands and savored for a moment or two. All you must do is put it in an envelope and send it. They have had a lifetime to gather a collection of various size frames.

Also valued are gift cards to favorite restaurants or shops; the expensive, not-covered-by-Medicare vitamins that help macular degeneration; magazine subscriptions and large-print books. Or even the surprise of money that pays a monthly bill.


The Gift of Asking US for Help

My friends and I sometimes feel like youngsters think we've aged into uselessness. Either our walkers make tasks difficult for us or we aren't included in activities because our loved ones don't think to ask.

A special gift is asking us to help you in any way we can. For example, I love when I get to read stories to my great-grandchildren who live 3,000 miles away. We use video conferencing or the phone. I find this a great way to bond with the little ones and get to learn about the latest books and their interests.

It's also an incredible gift when my loved ones call and ask me to teach them to sew a button or how to knit. Yes, YouTube videos can teach the skills, but it isn't the same as learning from a loved one. 

It's also an incredible gift when my loved ones call and ask me to teach them to sew a button or how to knit.

I've never said no when my kids ask me to stuff envelopes or make phone calls for a charity. Being able to contribute is a gift worth more than any socks, puzzles or slippers, and it's way more practical than a houseplant.

Which brings me to a final point; if you're brainstorming a gift for someone who uses a walker or Rollator (a rolling walker), keep in mind that both hands are needed for its use. That means we cannot carry something that can't be balanced on top of the mobility aid and move ourselves, and it, at the same time.

Heavy or bulky boxes or anything that has to be lifted from the ground will need to be moved by someone else, so please provide a warning if you are having something delivered to an older relative who uses a walking support.

The Gift We Really Want: You

Ultimately, the gift we want most is you: to hear your voice, to have a bit of your time and your love and your companionship. Whether you bring takeout to us or ask us to come with you on a drive — even just to run your errands — we long for one-on-one time, connection and human contact, especially after months of pandemic distancing.

And we're even willing to go electronically. One of my California-based grandsons took me to my great-granddaughter's school play via FaceTime and showed me around their new neighborhood while they took a walk and I got to meet their new neighbors (from the comfort of my chair in Ohio).

It was the best gift.

Contributor Mary Lou Wilson
Mary Lou Wilson 

Mary Lou Wilson is a 93-year-old writer and great-grandmother who lives in Ohio. 
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