One of my favorite occasions is the time leading up to a visit home and all that goes into the preparation - for someone who loves to be extra about everything, it is very eventful. You see, if you’re from a Caribbean island you can’t just make a visit home and show up with your two long hands*. And though sometimes expatriates joke about how everybody at home believes that the second you step foot on American/European soil you suddenly turn rich and can afford to shower relatives at home with luxuries, well, my family isn't like that, and anyway the fact is that there's usually a huge disparity in price between the two places so even if you earn a modest living, it might still be possible to bring back a little item or two for family that you can purchase at a fraction of the cost it would be at home. These days with the popularity of online shopping, if you're planning a visit home it's usually expected that you will save up some space in your valise for if anybody wants to purchase anything online and ship to you for you to bring for them, and even better, packed so strategically so as to hide it from the prying eyes and hands of the customs officials who are just dying to charge duty on any and everything whether it's your personal laptop you've had for three years now, or a shiny new tablet that you just happened to purchase last week, and 'oh, my I didn't even realize it still had the protective plastic shield on it! Yes, it really is mine, no it isn't a gift, no I don't plan to sell it on the island, I promise!!'. :)
Growing up, an aunt would visit at least once a year and we would look forward to it because not only was she very nice, she always brought goodies with her. Little treats here and there but also necessities that were fancy, like packs of underwear that had teddybears or puppies printed on them or days of the week, and being from a large family these would be shared out so that maybe I would get the pairs that said Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and my sister who was the same size as me would receive the remainder of the week. Other times a barrel might be shipped to my grandmother’s house from a relative in New York, a brown heavy cardboard cylinder that upon receipt she would, share out some of the contents between with my mother, my two other uncles, and her neighbor and best friend. Afterwards she would then close it, cover it with a bed sheet and this disguise would be removed and the top of the container pried off from time to time to retrieve from the stash until the contents were depleted - this could take months. The barrel came full of food items and soap and toothpaste and other toiletries. Out of this, my mother’s share might be some food provisions, a luxury or two like scented powder or a large bottle of lotion that seemed fancy to us, and one time a three-pack of the largest tubes of colgate toothpaste I had ever seen. Not being particularly well off, these things came in very handy.
When my Aunt visited, what I especially looked forward to was the odd item of clothing. This was before I was a teenager and so a t-shirt with a random print of a cartoon I had never watched and so was of no particular significance to me was still quite a thrill. Though we were plenty, she never failed to bring at least one item for every child. I always assumed these were new gifts, and i'm sure in many cases there were, but our family was always expanding so perhaps this one time she had to get a little creative. My gift was a green t-shirt with a picture and a print of ‘Teenage MUTANT Ninja Turtles’. I loved it so much that the next day when we visited my grandmother’s house I wore it proudly and happily. My cousin, her son, who also lived overseas upon seeing me ran back inside the house crying ‘Mom you gave away my favorite shirt! That was my favorite shirt you gave it away!!’
I was more confused than anything that it wasn’t a new shirt and then felt somewhat embarrassed when my cousin sulked and pouted the remainder of our visit. I wished I hadn’t been so eager to wear the shirt the same day I got it. I should have saved it up, I thought. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my shirt for the next few years until I outgrew it and likely passed it down to someone else smaller.
And now I am one of those people living overseas in America and go home every now and then to visit family. And now, I have nieces and nephews who I look forward to shopping for and bringing treats for. It’s easier for me because it’s only three of them, we were three times as much. With every visit, I really look forward to packing up my suitcase with goodies for family members, especially my niece & nephew. I’ve spent more time than I wish to admit browsing children clothing sites, and Amazon looking for things that I always wished I had when I was small or things that I think they might enjoy that either aren’t sold at home or are so highly marked up that nobody in their right mind would dream of being ripped off like that.
Since I don't have any children of my own, i'm even more able to indulge my shopaholic tendencies, while I have the chance i’m going to make the best of it.