Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Lessons from Grandma

It happens every year, at least once but often more than that.

I'll be wrapping a Christmas present and suddenly I'm transported back in time to the age of about 7 and I'm standing at the edge of the bed in grandma's back bedroom, about to get my first (and as it turned out, only) lesson in Gift Wrapping 101. I had never wrapped a present before and grandma had taken my brother and I shopping to get something for my mom. I'm not sure why I was picked to be the wrapper instead of him, but it was a lesson I'm glad I was given.

Grandma was meticulous about every detail of wrapping. First you lay out the gift then you pick the right paper. I'm not sure if she was this particular about every gift she wrapped but she was with this one. She picked out the prettiest paper she had, then had me roll it out. She showed me how to lay the gift on the paper then turn it this way or that, to see how it would fit best. Then, you bring up the edge of the paper just so, and put your first piece of tape on it. Very carefully turning the gift over to roll it up in the wrap until the entire gift is covered. That's when the Magic Scissors came out.

Grandma had the sharpest scissors in the history of humankind, and she showed me a trick to cutting paper. You sort of nick it just a little, hold the scissors at an angle and you just slide them right through the paper without ever chopping once. I learned over the years this only works with awesomely sharp scissors like grandma had, but it's the coolest way to cut paper, ever, especially if you have a large amount of gifts to wrap. It saves a ton of time. After the paper is cut, on goes the next piece of tape (which by the way were already ripped off the roll in roughly 1-2 inch strips and placed carefully in a neat little row on the footboard of the bed - no fumbling with the roll of tape during the actual wrapping process). Once that was done, the fun part begins. Turning the gift so that one end is facing you, you carefully fold down the top paper over the end of the gift so that the paper on the sides sort of forms what looks like wings. Then, you carefully put a crease in those wings and wrap them over the end like it's hugging the end of the box. Each wing gets a piece of tape and then you bring up the V shaped paper on the bottom and carefully tape that. She showed me how to do it first, and it took her about 3.5 seconds to complete the entire process. She didn't actually put the tape on, or make the real creases/folds in the paper (she just showed me where it goes), and then she unfolded everything and said "now you do it". I think I was in that back bedroom for a week or so trying to get my wrapping job to look exactly like hers. My "wings" were deformed then I ripped the paper, then the white underside of the paper showed through and no matter what I did I couldn't get it right. Over and over again I unwrapped it and tried to re-wrap it. Eventually, it was pretty close to being a good job and she told me to go ahead and tape it. "Now turn it around and do the other end exactly the same way" she said.

The movie Jaws hadn't even come out yet, but I'm sure I heard the Jaws theme music as I turned the box around. It didn't take me as long to get the other end wrapped the same way, but it was one of those weird/annoying/difficult challenges that it turned out I would learn later in life that I would love facing, just to get it right. Besides, this present was for my MOM, so it had to be as perfect as I could make it!

Once the wrapping was done, it was ribbon time. Oh ribbon time!! This was the most fun, ever. Grandma showed me how to slide the ribbon under the upturned box, twist it, flip the box and pull the ribbon up over the top. Again, it took her about 2 seconds to do it, then she pulled the ribbon off and handed it to me and said "now, you do it". Again with the Jaws theme music, just a little softer and further away in the background this time. As it turned out, I nailed it the first try! Somewhere in my little 7 year old head I became Super Christmas Ribbon Woman for just a few seconds. After that, it was just a matter of doubling up more ribbon, tying it at the X on the box, cutting the folded ends and going crazy with the edge of the scissors to make it curl.  Using a different level of pressure on each ribbon makes big bouncy curls or tight boing-y curls so you have to do each one just a little different. :-)

It's funny how every year for the last 40+ years I will start wrapping a Christmas present, and that entire lesson pops back into my head. When I think of it, it's usually just a flash but there I am, back in the back bedroom with the wall heater going, the bag of potatoes leaning against the wall there where she always put them and the smell of "grandma's house".

I think the last Christmas I was at grandma's house would have been in 1997, right before Kev and I were married and we moved 2500 miles away, but her wrapping lesson stuck with me, so in a way, grandma has always been with me at Christmas.  Just last night while I watched Kevin wrap the last few gifts I had to smile when I thought of how grandma would react, watching him.  She would have shifted her weight to one side, put her hands on her hips and say something along the lines of "Oh Kevin, you're NOT going to wrap it like that!" I just let him wrap it, like that.   (In our family we always joked that we're Irish when grandma got frustrated because our names changed from Carla to Oh Carla or Gary to Oh Gary, no matter who you were, you got the Oh at the beginning of your name).

My grandma passed away this year in January and it feels especially fitting that I document this memory of her because no matter what, as long as the Lord sees fit to let me stick around and wrap stuff, grandma will always be there wrapping it with me. Funny thing is, while I watched Kev last night, I had my hands on my hips.