Thursday, December 18, 2014

it's a wrap

the lady walked up to the giftwrap station at Pittman's, the small department store where i was spending the better part of Christmas vacation wrapping presents, and handed me her bag. i peeked inside, finding a dozen or so pairs of tighty-whities and another dozen pairs of white athletic socks.(the trims were different colors as i recall.)

i know i blushed. was she the mother of a boy from my class? lord i hoped not. underwear was not a discussable item in my house in the 1970s — well not now either, come to think of it. (politics, yes, as long as you voted for Nixon), but not underwear, and certainly not tight-whities!

in my family, underwear was a utility item, bought on a summer saturday when the last pair had holes in it. Christmas was for surprises and wants, not for needs.

but back to the job at hand.

as the lady stood by me, i pulled out a two large boxes from the pile and some tissue, planning to place the whities in one and the socks in another. i probably huffed a few times, too, though i don't recall that. i mean, couldn't she have bought them cargo pants or a jean jacket, or brogans, something cool? (all of these things were available at Pittman's.)

wrap 'em separately,  she said. 

really? all of them? i glanced at my watch, calculating the time it would take me to wrap two dozen small boxes before closing, which in my memory was only minutes away. my church youth group was putting on "The Homecoming" that night, and i'd have to head home, grab a bite and dress for my role (my stage debut!) as Mary Ellen Walton. there was not time in my life for 24 boxes of briefs and socks, wrapped and bowed. 


i had a job to do, and Edna Earle, (yes, really, that was her name) — Pittman's ever-present clerk, hovered to make sure i was efficient.

once i got over my embarrassment, i set to work, trying not to imagine who'd be opening these particular packages on Christmas morning.


it was a rite of passage for the girls in my town to pay their dues behind the wrapping station at Pittman's. my sister, Pamula, had loved the work, and even now when she gives me a package i can see the results of her hours logged there as a teen. sides tight, ends as perfect as my mother's hospital corners. bow pert and beautiful.

not so much me. that exercise in learning how to estimate how much paper i needed (no wasting, please), or how to rip it away from the giant roll leaving a perfect edge, to fold the corners exact and flat and keep the tape straight, well, this was lost on me.

thank goodness i found another career.

in a week, it will all be over, but there is wrapping yet to do. these days i don't have anyplace else to go except to sleep once the wrapping is done, yet i avoid it. 

though i try to fold exact corners and tie a fancy ribbon, my packages look like they were wrapped by that anxious teenager, weary of the job of wrapping dozens of tighty-whities for some unknown stranger. (thank heavens for small favors.)

but with the FAM coming in on Sunday, i could avoid no more, so i set up my wrapping station on the kitchen island, turned the bose to my Pandora Christmas and set to work. 

though at first the memory of Pittman's and all those socks yet to wrap hovered for a little bit, something else came through my thoughts that i hadn't expected. our first Christmas in our small house in Atlanta, and my husband had found a jazz station on the radio, playing Christmas music like i'd never heard before. (we weren't all about that jazz where i came from. mitch miller, sure, or even perry como, but this? lyrical, but without the lyrics. it was fine.)

soon i was lost in the memory ofpre-Christmas 1984, seeing my (much, much thinner) self wrapping the set of blocks my daughter would get for her first Christmas, tying a bow at the neck of the wooden rocking horse (SO impractical for a baby of one, but what the who?) and wrapping the few but carefully chosen gifts for my family, all in plain brown paper and plaid ribbon. (you can take the girl out of the country, and all that, but...)

i remember that night feeling so full of love for my small family, excited to celebrate the best gift we'd received already that year — the baby who slept just down the hall.


music, of course, is the bridge to memory. 

as Christmases passed, i bought cassette tapes, then CDs of many of my jazz flavor favorites, practically wearing them out from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve in the car and at home. among the melodies is a string version of "Of the Father's Love Begotten," that brings me to tears every time i hear it.

tonight i think about all that's wrapped up in this particular Christmas memory, grateful for my not so young family, for gifted musicians, and for those years long ago when i worked at a job that taught me about serving others even when i didn't feel like it — and wasn't particularly good at it.

and, by the way, though my mother is probably cringing as she reads this, we are boxer people. 

no tighty-whities here, though i do wrap them separately from the socks.

writemuch.blogspot is the original work of author susan byrum rountree. all written work and photography is copyright protected and can only be used with written permission of the author.