Use small brush when adding color to holidays

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

One November, as my parents prepared for their annual Thanksgiving trip from West Virginia to Baltimore, my father developed a severe toothache. Fortunately, he squeezed in an appointment with his dentist, who prescribed an antibiotic to treat the infection. However, the trip was in jeopardy for a few days.

During this time, my sister, Rachel, called. We chatted almost daily to keep our relationship close as it spanned the distance from Baltimore to Dallas, where she lived at the time. I updated her on the trip plans and described Dad’s lingering toothache.

She listened intently, absorbing all the facts, and then asked, “Which tooth?”

I paused, smiled and replied, “Well, Sissy, I don’t know that detail. But I can find out.”

We laughed, finishing our conversation. I eventually talked to Mom and Dad, identified the tooth (upper left bicuspid) and conveyed the information to Rachel. The trip proceeded without a hitch, the medication doing its job to relieve the pain and restore health to Dad’s tooth.

But I’ve pondered Rachel’s question. “Which tooth?”

Why would it matter which tooth was affected? How could that detail possibly benefit my sister 1,500 miles away?

It’s the connection, I reasoned. Details define us. They separate the uncommon from the ordinary. They give our world color and contrast. They give us hooks linking us to each other’s worlds.

My father called it “using a little paint brush” when my mother described an event.” Big brush it, Faye,” I can hear him say when he wanted her to bypass the details and finish her story quickly. And there are times for the big brush.

But I’d recommend a healthy supply of little brushes. Their dabs of color reveal more than an extra layer of paint.

The upcoming holidays launch the season of details. Our favorites come to the forefront. Favorite traditions. Favorite foods. Favorite activities.

Thoughtful gift-giving can be defined as details remembered. Remembering our loved ones’ favorite colors, books, hobbies and activities adds a special sincerity to our gifts.

Wish lists help. For years, my 11-year-old son, Peter, created his own wish book. He cut out his favorite toys from catalogs, pasting them into a notebook. I was always amazed at how much I learned about Peter by the contents of his wish book. implemented a similar idea several years ago, becoming one of the first Web sites to establish holiday wish lists. After finding a favorite book, CD, tool, or toy, one could click on “Wish List” and add the item to a personalized electronic registry. Friends could key in your name, view your wish list and select the perfect gift for you.

Our wish lists tell much about who we are. Do we like country or rock ‘n’ roll? Are we cutting edge with the latest digital cameras or more conservative with traditional sure-shots? Do we like history or romance novels? Playstation II or Xbox? Our preferences reflect our personality, the details of who we are.

For me, “Which tooth” becomes “What are you doing?” when I routinely call family or friends. Whether folding clothes, running a carpool, or finishing an Excel spreadsheet for work, details connect my world to theirs. I live vicariously through imagined activities and place myself in their world for a moment. A defined, detailed moment.

Which tooth?” my sister asks. It’s an approach worth consideration as we begin the holiday season and separate the uncommon from the ordinary.

Perhaps we’ll find a small paintbrush to color our moments that are soon to be memories.