Sunday, December 09, 2007

Wrapping up treasures

I don't know many people who honestly enjoy wrapping presents at Christmas, and of those I can think of who might challenge this statement, none are men.

I sometimes delight in wrapping a solo gift for someone's birthday, but most of the time my own wrapping is utilitarian. I would not win any honors from Martha Stewart for packaging.

For my father, wrapping packages was a chore. But he came to cherish his Christmas giving tradition. After years of leaving all the gift getting and wrapping to my mother -- except, of course, her own, my father decided one year to shop and wrap.

I wish I knew what prompted him to decide to shop that first year or how he chose Junk Lady Antiques as his destination. I suspect he went there to shop for Mom and decided to get something for us all. Maybe the Junk Lady herself suggested it. Dad liked doing business with the Junk Lady because her establishment was out on Loop 286, no where near the crowded shops on the town square of Paris, Texas.

Most of the time, the women he bought for -- me, my brother's wife, my mother -- got old costume jewelry -- just antique enough to wear as a retro fashion statement. In my opinion, the gifts for men -- my brother, my husband -- were often more intriguing. Children on his list -- my nieces and much later my son -- got odd little toys. One year, my nieces graduated to costume jewelry -- a sure sign my Dad was noting the maturity of his granddaughters. Not all in the same year, but each in our time, all the women got a costume jewelry Christmas tree pin. It was a tradition within a tradition.

I treasure all my gifts from Dad, but my favorite ever is a brass letter opener with a round magnifying glass in one end and the words: Metatone Reconstructive Tonic stamped into one side. I also treasure his last gift to Ryan, and so did Dad.

Two years ago, when Dad's surgery had been delayed a few days and I was staying with my parents, Dad and I were both in the living room wrapping presents. I had done some shopping for Ryan's Michigan and Illinois cousins and was wrapping them to mail. Dad was wrapping his "junk lady" gifts. Dad hadn't shopped with the original junk lady since he moved away from Paris in the early 1990s, but he always found an antique store to patronize and we persisted in calling these gifts "junk lady" gifts.

He showed me the gift he had gotten for Ryan. It was a true antique -- a metal alligator mechanical toy that walks and snaps its jaw. Dad was delighting in it. "Tell Ryan this is just like a toy I played with when I was his age," Dad said.

Dad put up the artificial tree for my mother that day, too. And he put his presents for all of us beneath it.

It was early December, but Dad had done his shopping even earlier, knowing he wouldn't feel up to shopping after his surgery, and knowing, too, that there was a risk he wouldn't be around to shop.

Earlier today, I was thinking about wrapping presents with Dad and thinking what a gift it had been, as we all felt the fresh pains of his loss, to have some unopened token -- treasure really -- of his love, his care, his attentiveness.

How wonderful that he had the foresight to wrap those presents before his surgery, I thought.

Then I realized he hadn't. Dad had not wrapped those presents before his surgery. He had wrapped them after it had been delayed. He had already left home for Houston, thinking he was headed to surgery. Instead they sent him home for five days. That's when he wrapped the presents.

In that split-second of realization, I smiled. In an odd way, I take some comfort in the timing. It tells me that Dad was actually pretty optimistic about his surgery. He hadn't wrapped these presents ahead of time "just in case", he wrapped them after the first scheduled surgery date had passed, in those five days when he had some extra time on his hands.

I'll always be grateful for that extra time, and I'll always be grateful, too, to the Junk Lady.


Jeri said...

What wonderful gifts time can bring? I find you opening up a gift from your father right now. Gifts are really reminders of the love we share with one another. You are blessed.

Orangeblossoms said...

This is such a fond post-- tender and sweet. Thank you for sharing these reflections. My dad gave me a cool gift this year. It was heartfelt and sentimental. I think I might just do a blog entry about it! Thanks for the inspiration.

molly said...

Thanks for your post--beautiful.

And, I give thanks for Krista, who gifted me with the practice of wrappings out of sewn cloth, tied with ribbons--gift bags that wear well and are less likely to end up in the "too crinkly to be presentable for reuse" pile that my gift bags often end in. I'm having fun imagining future gifts they might contain, hopeful that their recipients might continue to add precious gifts to their interior space.