Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

As hectic as the holidays can be with the merry chores of shopping and baking and decorating, I always kind of like it all, but I especially enjoy wrapping presents. We usually clear the dining room for a day or two to set up the paper bin and ribbon boxes, and then as long as there’s plenty of tape and sharp scissors, I can wrap for hours. Of course a little Ray Conniff never hurts.

It was my grandmother who taught me the art of gift wrapping when I was nine. She came up to our house in New Jersey from her home in Maryland a week or so before Christmas to spend some time with our family before heading back home for the holiday. One afternoon after school I sat at the kitchen table eating cookies and watching her cut and fold and tape her way through a stack of boxes.

“That looks pretty, Grandma,” I said. “Who is it for?”

“This one is for Billy Shep,” she told me.

“What about that one?” I asked a few minutes later.

“This one is for your mother, and the next one’s for your daddy,” she answered.

“You’re really good at that,” I told her.

Would you like to learn how to do this?” she asked. I nodded and she reached for a small package in the pile.

“This one is for your sister. It’s a little box because she’s a little girl. Let me show you what to do.”

She pulled a length of bright paper from a roll beside her and set the box on it. Then she took the shiny silver shears and rather than snipping as we had been taught in school, she made a tiny cut and then pushed them forward. It sounded like a zipper as the paper separated neatly from the roll. She sliced off another section from the end of the sheet. “We can use that for something else later,” she told me as she set it aside. “Come on over here and I’ll show you how to do this.”

I stood next to her. “First let’s get our tape ready,” she said and handed me the green plaid dispenser. “Cut off four pieces about this long.” The red polished nails of her thumb and forefinger were about an inch and a half apart. As I tore the tape, she placed each piece carefully on the edge of the table.

“Next pull these two ends together so they meet in the middle of the box.” I did as I was told, and she handed me a piece of tape. “See how nice that’s going to look?” she said once it was secure. “The next part is tricky, though, so I’ll show you one side and then you can do the other.”

I know now that there are two ways to wrap the end of a package. Most people push the sides in and crease them to form a top and a bottom flap which they fold over and tape together at the end of the parcel. My grandmother’s method was different, and to this day I find it more elegant. With the box on its back, she pushed the paper that hung over the end straight down and then folded the sides over and pulled up from the underneath to secure the single flap neatly to the bottom.

When my end was done, too, she flipped the present over, pulled a bow from a bag and stuck it down with a ring of tape made from the final piece at edge of the table. “That’s very nice,” she declared and hugged me. “I bet you wrap a lot more gifts in your life,” she said, “but I’m glad I was here for the first one.”

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