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The red salt pig

The red salt pig
Holly Hodder Eger
The red salt pig

The red salt pig arrived. I’d ordered it for my husband for Christmas, but he opened the Amazon box and saw it, miraculously unbroken, chucked in there with some nuts and bolts and wood polish. My order had gotten jumbled up with his.

“What the heck is this?” He held up the Émile Henry pottery which, empty, looked like a five-inch replica of a ship’s smokestack, not like the elegant salt holder resting proud alongside every French stove.

“It’s called a salt pig. Supposed to keep salt from clumping. Apparently ‘pig’ means ‘earthenware vessel’ in ancient Scottish,” I said.

“Looks like a PVC pipe elbow.” He shrugged and took his nuts and bolts to the garage.

No point in wrapping and putting it under the tree now. I filled the glossy pig with salt, but it still felt empty.

Back B.A. (Before Amazon), if I’d had a hankering to give my husband a salt pig, I would first have had to find one, probably not easy, then would have taken time to inspect all the pigs before choosing just the right one. I’d have wrapped it in bright paper, tied it with a red ribbon, and even composed a riddle for the tag — since my husband certainly wouldn’t be expecting a salt pig under the tree and it would be fun to watch him guess.

We’d have admired said pig all day and by the time we placed it beside the stove, it would have acquired a personality and possibly a name, and we would forever treasure the ceremony.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” Hamlet says, and he is right. Without the significance we attribute to something, a salt pig is . . . a salt pig. Meanings are up to us, and there seems to be a pervasive, soul-crushing sense in America these days that nothing means anything anymore.

People have complained about the steady commercialization of Christmas for generations and Amazon, for all its astonishing convenience and efficiency, has been its death knell. Everything is a mere click away, another quick transaction. What’s ironic is that with all this instant gratification, people actually seem to have less time.

Our kids are grown up now and anything they might want for Christmas they can buy themselves and have delivered tomorrow. They never get to anticipate. Talk about taking the fun out of the holidays, because where is magic without anticipation?

I remember searching for two perfect baby dolls one December for our little daughters, one blonde and one brunette. At a toy store several towns away I found an old-fashioned blonde one, the kind with real hair and eyes that closed, but the brunette was sold out. The owner assured me he could get a brunette in time and after a lot of fretting on my part, he stood on our front porch on a snowy Christmas Eve and placed her in my arms. I will never forget our daughters’ shining eyes as they ran to their dolls under the twinkling tree and our littlest whispering, “I knew you’d be here.”

I remember thinking this would be the Christmas we’d always miss.

This morning, weary of my bemoaning the loss of Christmas over a mislaid salt pig, my husband texted a surprise suggestion to our family’s Secret Santa thread: anyone interested in giving a gift with significance and meaning might consider making something by hand.

Later, our son came over to pick up his daughter Lucy, who’s nearly four. He said that while he appreciated the sentiment, it would take a Christmas miracle for him to find time to make anyone anything. But maybe next year.

Lucy, her hands sticky from the cookies we’d been decorating, crawled into my lap. “It’s okay, Winky.” (She’d named me that when she was a baby, after endless renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”)

Had I forgotten that Christmas joy is about the children at your knee?

“I made you something special, Winky, and wrapped it all by myself. But you are just going to have to wait.”

I could swear I saw our new salt pig wink.

Holly Hodder Eger lives on Martha’s Vineyard and is the author of “Split Rock: A Martha’s Vineyard Novel,” winner of the International Book Award for Best Women’s Fiction.