By J.J. Miller

When I was an 11-year-old girl growing up in the South, the Ouija board told me I would marry Tom Weinberg. I didn't know any such person, but that Christmas he surprised me with a yellow Forenza sweater I'd been coveting. A few Christmases earlier, Billy Joel and Chris Evert had sent cassette tapes and a tennis racket. A few Christmases later, Madonna gave me fingerless lace gloves, and Theo Huxtable wowed me with a fabulous winter coat. Oprah's been sending gifts since I was in high school.

It wasn't that I was the world's most connected kid. I just happened to have parents who were clued in to my life and didn't mind stretching the truth to show it. Every Christmas my sister and I would come downstairs to stacks of presents labeled with gift tags from everyone important to us, from the real to the fantastic. In the world according to Mom and Dad, every person we loved, loved us right back; if Santa could give us things, why not Kate & Allie?

There were annual favorites: "Coach Smith"—of my beloved University of North Carolina Tar Heels—"never forgets you, how sweet," Mom joked every year. There were references even to the bit players in our lives: My high school boyfriend's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth, once gave me a tasteful add-a-bead necklace. There were inside jokes: I'm a truly terrible cook, and on the package of pots and pans I would take to college, Julia Child encouraged me to "keep trying."

But the tag I cherish most came in 1998, the year I moved to New York. Apparently, I couldn't stop talking about the nice man who worked at the deli on the corner, and he ("Mike at the convenience store") naturally thought of me—at least in my parents' parallel universe. Today Mike is my real-life husband (sorry, Tom Weinberg, whoever you are), and I love that my parents knew how special he was to me even before I did. Flipping through those gift tags now—yes, I've saved them all these years—is like reviewing a time capsule of everyone and everything I ever cared about. It reminds me that despite the angst and arguments my mother and I had while I was growing up, she and my father knew me better than I knew myself. And that means more than any perfectly wrapped present ever did.

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