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Beacon Senior News

Adventures in gift wrapping

Nov 23, 2021 10:40AM ● By Sally Breslin
Three rolls of shiny gold wrapping paper sit next to a stack of four beautifully decorated gold presents with gold ribbon on a backdrop of golden hue

Every Christmas season I receive a big box of Christmas gifts from a friend in New York—a friend whose gifts are always so beautifully wrapped, they could make even Martha Stewart’s gifts look as if the family dog had wrapped them.

His gifts truly are works of art. Last year they were resplendent in flocked green paper with dainty red bells all over it, topped with red satin bows that each held a gold tinsel wreath and a blown-glass ornament. The gift tags were gold with mother-of-pearl glitter on them and were written in calligraphy.

I honestly didn’t want to open any of the gifts because I felt as if I were destroying fine pieces of art, the equivalent of splattering black paint on an original Van Gogh.

I hate to admit it, but my idea of wrapping Christmas gifts usually involves slapping some dollar-store paper and tags on them. And if I run out of tags, I grab a permanent marker and write the person’s name across the paper. Sometimes, especially if I’m in a rush, I don’t even use scissors. I just tear the paper with my hands or rip off a chunk with my teeth. I figure no one really cares about the outside of the package anyway—it’s what’s inside that counts.

And then there’s also the world’s greatest invention since sliced bread: gift bags.

My friend in New York, however, is one of the few people who really does care about the exterior of gifts. This has elicited some not-so-subtle comments about my gifts to him, such as: “There must have been a power failure when you wrapped this,” or “Who would have guessed that such an unattractive package could contain such a lovely gift?” One time, he even asked me if my arm had been in a sling when I did my wrapping.

But he’s not the only one who’s criticized my gift-wrapping techniques. They always were a source of embarrassment to my mother who once worked as, heaven forbid, a professional gift-wrapper in a big department store. She even held the nickname of “the woman who could wrap anything.”

Judi Zuback, Erin Crooke and Kathy Crook dabble in gift wrapping at Grand Junctinon Dillard’s.

 

Back when my mother worked as a gift wrapper, the store offered free wrapping, no matter how small or large the purchase. Even 98-cent items qualified for free gift-wrapping. So people took advantage of it—big advantage. My mother ended up wrapping everything from a box of paper clips to a huge, round, tufted ottoman.

One day, the gift-wrapping staff was short-handed, so my mother asked me if I could help out and fill in. 

“Me?” I asked in disbelief. “Are you seriously that desperate? You’ve seen what the stuff I wrap looks like!”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I can give you a crash course in wrapping. It’s really pretty simple.”

Fool that I was, I actually believed her and went to work with her that day. 

My mother made wrapping gifts look effortless. With a mere glance at the item to be wrapped, she tore off exactly the right length of paper from a roll about the width of a redwood tree trunk and wrapped the gift in 20 seconds flat. When she was finished, the wrapping didn’t have a single wrinkle or crease anywhere, and the corners were so sharp and crisp, you could have speared olives with them.

She also showed me how to pull just enough ribbon from the spool to go completely around each package. As a finishing touch, she spiral-curled the ends of the ribbon by pressing them with her thumb against an open edge of her scissors and swiftly sliding it against the grain.

Well, I tried to do everything she taught me. I really did. But I seemed hopelessly incapable of judging the length of paper correctly. 

Too often, what I tore off from the roll was too short, so I had to tear off another bigger sheet. My mother gave the evil eye to the growing pile of discarded paper in my corner and told me if I kept wasting it, they would run out. At that point, however, running out of paper sounded pretty good to me, especially if it meant I could go home.

And forget about curling the ribbon. When I slid it against the edge of the scissors, I nearly de-thumbed myself.

Still, I didn’t give up, even though I felt myself growing increasingly Scrooge-like as the day progressed. After struggling for 15 minutes to wrap an octagonal-shaped jewelry box that had more corners than a New York City intersection, I handed my masterpiece to the customer. 

He looked at it and frowned. “That looks terrible!”

“What do you want for free?” I snapped before I could stop myself. “A museum piece?”

Judi Zuback presents a gift beautifully wrapped by Genevra Shal. 

 Needless to say, my wrapping career was extremely short-lived.

So now, over 50 years later, I’ve become a big fan of gift bags. But I do want to use something more special for my artistic friend in New York, even though he’ll probably still reward my efforts by asking me if I wrapped his gift with my feet.

I’m thinking I just might go all out this year and splurge on some of those dollar-store stick-on bows.


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