Why Southerners Will Always Choose A Sentimental Gift Over An Expensive One

It really is the thought that counts.

Little girl holding gifts for mothers behind her back
Photo: Pixel Catchers

A couple of years ago on Christmas Eve, my cousins and I each unwrapped a white binder filled with 30-some sheet-protected photocopies of handwritten recipes. In these makeshift cookbooks, there are dishes unique to each branch of the tree—like my mom's Greek chicken marinade and my Aunt Kaycee's broccoli salad—and recipes beloved by all of us, like my grandmother's hot dog chili, which has made an appearance at every Fourth of July and Halloween celebration that I can remember. Given that we've all swapped dozens of birthday cards and Christmas presents, the handwriting styles, too, are familiar and easily identifiable: the loopy cursive of my Aunt Leigh; the tidy, rounded print of my Aunt Kelly. There was also one I didn't expect to see in the pages of our family cookbook: my grandfather's clipped print with the occasional looped-tail "g."

Growing up, my grandmother was always the cook in my grandparents' household, but after she died, my grandfather—a retired surgeon who'd only ever made toast—was left to fend for himself. He figured it out, learning to make her signature chili, mastering her quick-marinated cucumber pickles, and even devising his very own recipe for "Pork Tenderloin - Canadian Style," which included a maple syrup marinade (an on-brand move for our Ottawa-born patriarch). He wrote all of them down for the cookbook. He took great pride in sharing those handwritten recipes with his 11 grandchildren, and we were all delighted to receive them.

No, our little three-ring binders didn't come with any bells or whistles. Our cookbooks weren't professionally bound with custom illustrations and don't feature cool, graphic lettering. But they don't need them. The value of the cookbook, of course, lies in what's between the cardboard covers—handwritten representations of the love my cousins and siblings and I have been lucky enough to experience our entire lives.

My grandfather passed away last summer, but thanks to that sentimental gift two Christmases ago, I'll be able to share his recipes—and glimpses of his careful handwriting—with my own grandchildren one day. Sure, I'll always appreciate a shiny bauble or a brand-new kitchen tool, but when it comes to gifts that keep on giving, you can't beat something heartfelt and sentimental. Plus, it's a whole lot cheaper than an iPad.

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