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And Tie It With A Bow

December 20, 2007

When I was younger, Christmas in my parent’s house was something of a competition.  And my father’s mother was always, hands down, the winner.  After all, who could compete with her skill?  Her artistry?  Her array of tools and color palette?  Her glitter?

It wasn’t about the food, or the size of the stash, or the uniqueness of the gift.  In our house, it was all about the bows.

Each year, the wrapping season would begin with the unpacking of the previous year’s bows.  My grandmother’s bows were so spectacular that they were kept stored in great bags when not in use, and then pulled out to be recycled onto another package.  I think she delighted in looking for new and wondrous ways to adorn her packages.  Wire edged ribbon with glittering metal threads, velvet ribbon sprayed in an artful dash of glitter, shiny bands of wide plastic ribbon that you could see yourself in.  And scattered among the loops and sprays of ribbon were tiny treasures.  Ornaments, flowers, small toys, and sometimes, if you were really lucky, a  tiny package would be tucked into the tower of tinsel.  A little something extra to delight and awe.

My mother tried to compete, but she neither had the tools, nor the patience.  My mother spent most of those years working long hours at the hospital, and holidays were no exception.  So while she enjoyed the shopping and the surprising, the wrapping was usually left to her daughters.  And while there were some years that wrapping was less than fun, it was always an adventure.  When Christmas morning came, the pile of presents under the tree was not only massive, it was an art gallery.

I loved to dig down deep into the bag and pull out something from Christmases past.  The wide bands of ribbon were always cut at the points farthest from the bow, to maximize the amount of ribbon that could be reused the next year.  Sometimes, a ribbon had to be taped back together.  Sometimes, it had to be tied on with other ribbon.  Sometimes, it took a steaming dollop of hot glue and a quick hand.  But no matter how the bows went back on, I was bound and determined to make them stay.

Every now and then, I’d get adventurous and try to make my own creations.  I doubt I ever did nearly as well as my grandmother.  Most of the time, I was merely copying techniques used by my sisters.  A curl of ribbon here, a fold of paper there, a dash of glitter over the whole mess, and tada!  One big mess.  A shiny, sparkling mess that would look wonderful under the tree, but a mess nonetheless.  Mostly I did it because it gave me a sense of peace.  During the busy holiday season, wrapping presents was a spot of quiet time.  Measuring the paper out just right, taping careful folds into place, plopping a confection of ribbon on top.  It was an obsessive compulsive’s dream.

As I grew older and went off to college, things changed.  My mother still didn’t have the time to wrap and there was no guarantee that we’d have time either.  After the divorce, the bows and the paper and the ribbon went away.  I doubt she ever really threw them away, but I think that the giant spools were used up and replaced with smaller spools.  The crafts were packed away, the glitter probably long gone.  My grandparents moved as well.  My grandmother no long keeps a giant box labeled “pink velvet bows.”  She simply doesn’t have the space.  And while her presents are still works of art, she simply can’t create with the dexterity that she used to.  As for us daughters?  Well, I can’t really speak for my sisters.  But I never really had the space to store al of those tools.  Until now.

The other night, Whitney and I sat in front of the TV, popped in season 3 of House, and wrapped presents.  Since the presents I was wrapping were going into a giant box to be mailed to Middle Sister, I simply applied my best Wrapping Paper Origami techniques.  Tonight, however, I pulled out the paper I had bought especially for Whitney and the metallic purple ribbon.  As I wrapped, I remembered afternoons in my mother’s craft space, surrounded by ribbon and paper.  I remembered the careful folds, the tips and tricks learned from three generations of women, and how much I used to enjoy this simple pleasure.  And when I was done, I had a pile of gifts that, while nowhere near as artistic as the ones of my youth, were as beautiful on the outside as the gifts on the inside.  And it made me happy.

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