Last year this clever young man comes to school with a cottonball beard and an elfin hat tucked under his arm. He doesn’t get far down the hallway before I have to inquire.

“It’s for my best friend,” he answers, smiling widely. “Today is her birthday. You know, she likes gnomes.”

“How thoughtful,” I say, patting him on the shoulder. Likes gnomes? Everyone knows this girl loves gnomes. Really loves gnomes. She puts them in movies. For all intents and purposes, she is running an indie film studio with the Mac in her parents’ home office. We’re talking stellar flicks, depicting gnome attacks on a global scale. She has come close to perfecting the gnome genre. That new movie, Gnomeo and Juliet, is riding on her coattails, as far as I’m concerned.  So I ask her buddy, “Your gift to her is a gnome costume, I gather?”

“No way!” He kneels at his locker, laughing, “Much, much better!” As he forages around for his school supplies, he goes on to tell me that he’d gotten ready for school earlier than usual that morning, donning the hat and beard. His mother had played cabbie and had shuttled him over to his best friend’s house, where he’d gingerly climbed into the flower beds. And stood. This guy is comedically brilliant, and he knew exactly how to carry it off.

When his friend comes out of the house to leave for school, he never says a word. In stone-faced silence, he waits. Then, when she is some distance away, she happens to glance back. Maybe her mom’s car is headed out of the driveway, I don’t know. But she looks up and discovers him, standing stoic for her in the petunias, and, bless him, her heart melts.

What a little Gnomeo.

I hear her gushing to friends about it all day long. He has sealed her twelfth birthday as “the best ever.” Well, she has had only seven birthdays that she actually can remember, but I know she means this in a futuristic sense, as well. I would not be at all surprised if, when she is gray-headed, his unique gift still ranks as one of the most simple and sweet. To understand the beauty of his vision, you would have to see the goofy presents most of my students give for birthdays and Valentines. I could waste quite a bit of space on unnecessary details, here. But I won’t. One example gives you an accurate picture: light-up hair accessories. Pardon me as I employ a retro phrase circa 1986, my own 6th grade year …

Gag me with a dead Smurf.

The best gifts rarely are found on end-cap displays, in catalogs, or under glass. This should come as welcomed news, considering few of us have any extra money lying around anyway. Yes, the most delicious gifts are so personal, if they were given to someone else, it would not mean the same at all. Chocolate is generic. Jewelry, for the bland palate. But a life-sized gnome? That’s a specialty item for a person of distinguished taste. That is gourmet gift-giving, right there. Not everyone can appreciate it. Think hard enough, and I’ll bet you can figure out a truffle of a thing, a pleasurable little taste that will win a treasured heart to you today. Nothing beats that special idea, that creative thought, that meaningful gesture, that favorite joke, that simple effort to delight a specific person in a specific way. Nothing.

Just ask Juliet.

When I tell her I enjoyed hearing about her humorous garden surprise, she has sudden tears in her young eyes.

“I know, right! Isn’t it great?” she shakes her head, beaming. “He knows me so well. A life-sized gnome in my own yard! How did he think of something so perfect and sweet? I’ll never, ever forget it.”

Ahhh. It seems that J-Lo was right, after all: Love don’t cost a thing.

It just takes a mom willing to drive.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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