Mary holds her favorite Christmas gift, a year-long AAA membership that came in very handy the day after she received it. She is seen here waiting for a mechanic to provide a “jump” for her dead battery.

by Mary Gulivindala

During the holiday season many families gather together to share customs, beliefs and traditions to enjoy holiday cheer. My family is the same. We go to my sister’s house to celebrate Christmas. Going to my sister’s house for dinner has become a family tradition. Every year myself, my children, my mother, my siblings, niece and nephew gather together on this auspicious day to over-eat, talk over one another and, the best part, exchange gifts.

Everyone has an aunt or uncle, sister or brother that you can pretty much predict what kind of gift you will get from them. My family is big on books, YEA!! The “envelope,” which you know is cash, YEA!! and gift cards. As I said, we celebrate a tradition.

I am the youngest of five children. I have one sister, Betty, the oldest of the siblings. Next come my three brothers and then, me. My sister has always been a shining star in my eyes. She is 10 years my senior. When I was a little girl, I would lie in our room on my bed and watch her study at our desk. Betty attended Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, was in the marching band color guard, flag twirler (totally cool), had a boyfriend who drove a snazzy car and got straight A’s, or I thought so.

She also had beautiful LONG brown hair. Betty wore make up, snuck off to the mall and had her ears pierced at the Piercing Pagoda, much to my mother’s dismay, and had a friend who would come over with her guitar and play “Puff The Magic Dragon!” It was the ‘70s. I wasn’t allowed in the room. She was the coolest in my eyes then, as she is now. Betty was always “the good girl.” That hasn’t changed either — or I think not.

CBS News recently reported in an article titled “Personality Linked To Birth Order” that over half of U.S presidents were firstborns. Clearly, firstborns are natural leaders. They also tend to be reliable, conscientious and perfectionists who don’t like surprises. Although first-borns are typically aggressive, many are also compliant people-pleasers. According to the report, “They are model children who have a strong need for approval from anyone in charge.”

That is Betty. I on the other hand, being the youngest, have the characteristics of “being social and outgoing and are the most financially irresponsible of all birth orders. They just want to have a good time. Knowing that the youngest kids love the limelight, it’s no surprise to discover that Billy Crystal, Goldie Hawn, Drew Carey, Jim Carey and Steve Martin are all last-borns.” Here is the link in case you want to look at the article yourself: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500172_162-511694.html.

Betty went into nursing and has risen to heights within the health-care industry. Her background as a caregiver has influenced her professionally and personally. Personally this has rolled over into her gift-giving style. One year Betty gave us each an American Red Cross Emergency Radio so that we would be prepared in case a tornado, flood, hurricane, blizzard or the end of the world came.

This radio is weather-resistant and has a hand-crank power generator that powers the unit’s AM/FM/TV/Weather radio, a built-in LED flashlight, cell phone charger and emergency siren. I did not appreciate the value of that radio when I got it. Now that I’m older and wiser and have gone through Hurricane Sandy, I hate to say it and regret it now, but I re-gifted it. I’m sorry, Betty. Who knew?

Another year Betty gave the family pedometers, devices that count each step a person takes by detecting the motion of the person’s hips. A daily target of 10,000 steps has been recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General. Betty’s motive once again at the family Christmas present swap was to take care of the family (first-born) and make sure we are heart-smart, active and fit.

Well, Betty, I didn’t re-gift it, but I never used it, and now it’s lost. I WAS SKINNY AT THE TIME; I’M SORRY. Betty had some important job in Washington, D.C. I’ve seen her curriculum vitae, and it’s like reading Latin. All her jobs were beyond my comprehension. All I know is that she has a multitude of letters after her name on her business card, MS, PhD, SW, etc. I put in the SW, which stands for Super Woman.

This year Betty gave me a year-long membership in AAA car service. In a few years I wouldn’t be surprised if I get a subscription to AARP. Careful, Betty; remember I’m the last-born with a big ego, so please be gentle with the timing. I was recently in a car accident; not my fault. I needed to be towed, which is costly, and once again I had no money. (What do you expect? I’m last-born.)

The day after Christmas my son, whose life revolves around basketball, had a tournament far away that started at 10 a.m. The day after Christmas!! I’m always running late (natural for the baby of the family), so we rushed to get ready. The last thing I wanted to do was drive a long distance for a long basketball game. Well, wouldn’t you know it? I wouldn’t have to. Why? When I went to start my car, my battery was dead. I couldn’t believe it; I had left the INTERIOR light on.

Then again, damn the birth order! Quickly I went into survival mode and called the coach to see if we could bum a ride. He had been there for an hour by that time. He must be the oldest in his family because clearly he left too early and was already at the game. I had to break the news to my son that we would not make the game. Much to my surprise, James, my son, took the news very well. He jumped right out of the car and ran inside to play with his new Legos while I sat in my car dumbfounded. In all my years, I had to have my car battery ‘jumped’ only once; last summer at the end of a long beach day, I left my headlights on. So anyway, no less than 12 hours after I got that recent membership, I was using my Christmas gift from my sister; 12 hours!!

Knowing that my sister had given me AAA the night before, I went into the house to see if I could call upon the service to come to my rescue. I wasn’t sure if it was activated yet. With fingers crossed, I opened the envelope, and YES, I had a temporary number until my card arrived. I called the number, expecting to get the usual telephone customer service mistreatment that has become standard these days and was pleasantly surprised when the agent took my information and informed me that a truck would be out within two hours. The lady on the phone was so pleasant (working the day after Christmas), she must have been a middle child.

Within the hour, my phone rang telling me the truck would be there in five minutes, and it was! Here came my knight in shining tow truck, Tom, to save the day. Tom jumped my battery, ran a diagnostic test and gave me a tutorial worthy of YouTube. He also told me about some of the perks of membership like discounts at stores and movies when shopping, but you have to ask at the stores; they don’t tell you. What a relief; my car was running, and I didn’t have to tell my mom, who would NOT have been surprised that this happened to me. My sister saved the day once again. If I remember correctly, Betty was a Girl Scout, too. THANK YOU, BETTY!

“Life coach” Mary Gulivindala is the founder of Blue Print Life & Wellness Coaching in Chestnut Hill and a stand-up comic.