There was a time when if someone asked me what I thought the perfect job would be, I would say wrapping gifts at one of the Classic Department Stores like Thalhimers or Miller & Rhoads! What job could offer more fun than to see what people picked out for their friends getting married, having babies or birthdays or holiday celebrations; to carefully arrange towels, or crystal candlesticks, or blankets and receiving gowns, or sweaters and pearls, package them up in the beautifully-designed and coordinated gift wrap, and imagine the happy recipient opening the carefully wrapped box with a big smile?
Christmas was the time of year we seemed to spend the most time in downtown Richmond, shopping, having lunch at Thalhimer’s Tea Room or Miller & Rhoads coffee shop and looking at the window displays on Broad Street. But during other times of the year, we would occasionally visit the Customer Service Department in Thalhimers or Miller and Rhoads to pick up a complimentary box to go with a gift we had purchased (remember those days?) and while we were waiting, I would gaze at the various gift wrap options with lovely choices for weddings, baby showers, birthday, Christmas, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day. The colorful selections of thick papers and shining bows and wide ribbons of velvet, grosgrain and satin were a feast for the eyes. The paper hung on enormous rolls mounted on the wall, next to large spools of ribbon and perfectly sized, matching bows. There were usually scissors hanging from a string nearby.
Our family, unless extraordinarily pressed for time, wrapped gifts at home. I was carefully instructed at Papa Gene’s School of Gift Wrapping. Here I learned how to size the box to the paper, how to position the paper’s print on the box for maximum design impact, several options for the folding finish on the ends of the box, and various methods of applying ribbon. This is also where I was introduced to the deceptive practices devised to mislead the beneficiary as to the content of the gift.
This is a service that no store, now or then, no matter how wonderful, offers!
One technique involves including something interesting sounding in the box, like jingle bells, a pencil, or even something weighty like a battery, so that when you shake the gift, there is an odd sound. One can also double box the gift. This is really of paramount importance with items like books, CDs or DVDs. My favorite dodge is to wrap something Mr. Garner really wants, like a DVD, in a box shaped like something he doesn’t want, like a dress shirt! Works every time. (Because there are times when he actually does get a shirt, much to his chagrin.) There have been a few famous family incidents, usually instigated by Papa Gene (of the school by the same name) where four or more boxes were involved in a delusory gift wrap scheme.
In was in this tradition, that #1 Son chose to employ clever chicanery to disguise his Christmas gift for Mr. Garner. Scorning the obvious shirt box, he opted instead to place the Fantastic Four T-Shirt in a hollowed-out book. Of course, there is no book in our home which deserves such desecration so we made a trip to our beloved Book Exchange to find a tome large enough but of dubious value. He headed first to the section with liberal politics but they were all much too shallow. He found a history book and a Shakespeare collection both of which were large enough, and thick enough, but he knew I would never approve. That’s when I stumbled across the old Algebra and Trigonometry text books.
#1 Son thoroughly enjoyed hollowing out that old textbook. Since Mr. Garner had spent many a brain-stretching evening with #1 Son deciphering his poorly written and organized Algebra and Trigonometry textbooks, there was a special memory attached as well! The completed book with T-shirt tightly folded and enclosed was then gift-wrapped with paper, wrapped in bubble wrap, boxed and wrapped again! The finished product was rather heavy! To our delight Mr. Garner was completely flummoxed. He had nary a clue. He was baffled, bewildered, confounded and discombobulated at each stage of the unwrapping event, until the moment he opened the book! And I have pictures!
* If you miss the Classic Department stores as much as I do, you might enjoy The Department Store Museum (blog)! For those from the DC area, Michael Lisicky has written a book Woodward and Lothrop: A Store Worthy of the Nation’s Capital. Miller and Rhoads lives on in memory through a blog created by Pat Pontius at University of Virginia’s American Studies Program entitled Miller and Rhoads: Birth , Life and Death in a Community. If you have fond memories of Thalhimer’s Tea Room, or anything Thalhimers for that matter, I have a few links for you! Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt has a blog and a facebook page and has published a book entitled Finding Thalhimers where she “chronicles more than 150 years of the Thalhimers’ store and four generations of family leadership, tracing the company’s growth from a modest dry goods shop in Richmond, Virginia, to a 26-store chain across Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. “
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