A woman’s touch

And finally, the end of Shopping Week on the JMD blog.  A week of reminisces and ponderings on that which we all do every week (if not every day).  Thus, our final entry…

Having just touched on the kickoff of the holiday buying season, it seems logical to tell tales of my own holiday shopping.  Though we like to be politically correct in the description and usage of the terms, let’s face it, it is commonly referred to as Christmas shopping.  Certainly the ads and the store decorations lend themselves that way.  You never see Santa in a blue and white outfit, for example.  So, though I buy presents for a variety of holidays during this time, forgive me if I slip into referring to it simply as Christmas shopping.

When I joined my last company, over 15 years past now, I met a young lady who would eventually become my best friend.  Over time I would end up sharing a number of Christmas mornings having breakfast and sharing gifts with her family before going on to my own family and other friends (a sort of modern day Santa, with my car loaded up with presents for each household).

We became close quickly, sharing an ethical and moral view of the world, and over the course of time I would ask her for advice on this purchase or that for various women in my life (Mom, Grams, friends).  Finally, in what should have been obvious from the start, we went shopping together one holiday season.

I don’t remember who suggested it, her or me.  Since it was such a smart suggestion, I imagine she came up with it.  Whatever its origin, she opened my eyes to a number of new gift possibilities my “male brain” just didn’t immediately get.  And she brought the craftiness that seems to be only within the skills of women.  Men most often just go like an arrow to the first place they think of and get the “burden” of shopping over with, like picking up a piece of rotted trash and gingerly, but quickly, depositing it into the trash can.  Get it over with!

My friend brought with her over a dozen sale circulars and some special advertisements she had noted and cut out, all stuffed in that miraculous contraption women call a purse.  Perhaps that’s the reason Men aren’t better shoppers…you just can’t fit all that stuff in a wallet!

She would then interview me about my ladies and my wishes for each.  In some cases, I had specific ideas (we’ll touch on one later), in others, just a general concept.  For example, I knew my Mom liked a specific brand of perfume, but my friend was the one who knew where to find a gift basket of the stuff along with the additional free gift pack that came with a purchase over a certain amount.

When I wanted to get a new purse for a friend, she asked me first about my spending limits and then took me to the areas and stores offering the quality of purses in that range, explaining the cachet of each brand to me (to which I stand well educated on today).  And on, and on.

The shopping trips became a regular ritual.  Every year, as Christmas approached, we would begin talking about our upcoming trip, which stores and malls, what day, who was new on the list and who (gasp) might have fallen off.

The trips were a blast. Having reached a point of making more money than I thought I deserved, I liked to share my good fortune with friends and family.  This created a pretty generous buying budget and made for great fun for my friend.  It’s not often you can go carte blanche on shopping and not have to worry about it coming out of your pocket.  Not to imply I was rich, mind you, but I have pretty simple needs and without a wife or children, who else was I going to spend my money on?

We found that a single day marathon across stores and locations (with a pause for lunch in the middle) would usually accomplish the great task of my extended and extreme gift giving needs.  We would laugh like kids in an ice cream shop as we stood in line, occasionally prompting an incorrect conclusion from fellow shoppers that we were married.  I assured them that no husband would be as free with his credit card to his wife as I was to my friend!  I had more than one person (female and male) who wanted to know if I needed another friend.

One of my fondest memories was a gift I was struggling to find for a friend.  She had a favorite little cosmetic purse (a purse, mind you, not a compact) that had a little mirror attached.  The mirror had broken over time and she was using it with only a little piece of mirror left because she “just loved it” and hadn’t gotten around to replacing it.

I searched and searched for something similar but couldn’t find anything.  When my friend and I went on our trip, we made it the cornerstone of our shopping.  Store after store we were unable to come up with anything similar.  It meant a great deal to me to find this thing, since I always tried to make my presents reflective of the person I was giving it to (showing that I cared enough to pay attention to their life).

Finally, as we were nearing the end of our shopping day, we wandered into a mass merchandise store, on a lark, and shuffled through the purses there.  As I squeezed and unzipped various tiny purses, I came across this hideous thing that looked like it came from a 1920s movie, with shining silver filigrees covering the purse.  And yet, I felt something odd when I squeezed it…daring not to breathe I unzipped the thing and out popped a little round mirror on a strap…just like my friend’s broken purse mirror.

I excitedly shared my find with my best friend, who looked at me askance.  I assured her I thought the purse was horrible looking, too, and had no intention of giving it as a gift.  I lamented that it’s too bad I couldn’t take the mirror from this purse and attach it to some of the others we’d seen.  My fried’s face lit up and she told me of a relative who could do such a thing.  All we needed now was a suitable tiny purse to attach it to.

Buying the horrid purse, my friend led me back to a previous store where we had seen a perfect sized Coach purse (with no mirror, sadly).  I snatched it up, purchased it and gave both to my friend, who assured me she would have it back in plenty of time to wrap.

A week or so later and the task was complete, the mirror attachment was perfect and seemed as if the purse came that in the first place.  I asked how much her relative wanted for the beautiful job and my friend said she had given her the horrid purse.  I looked at her, aghast, but she assured me that her relative had actually asked for it.  We both burst out laughing at the thought and I had my gift for that friend completed.

The punch line to the whole thing was that my friend never quite got why I gave her the purse (like a joke, if you have to explain it…) and I don’t believe I ever saw her use it.  Far from being disappointed or upset over that result, the fondness of the memory and success at creating the gift warms me to this day.  And my friend and I still get a chuckle thinking about her relative with the 1920s purse.

When my friend and her family moved out to Las Vegas, I would visit her every year for the holidays and we would continue our shopping trip out there.  Since I was always there on Christmas, my “regulars” received their gifts after I got back (except for kids, I made sure they had theirs in time to be put under a tree or menorah or other appropriate symbol for the holiday).

One final pass on our Christmas shopping times.  Over the many years, the one area I felt least confident in purchasing was jewelry.  Not being an accessories man myself (no rings, a Timex watch (with Indigo! for my inner nerd) and a single chain handed down from my maternal Grandfather), I had no feel for what was appropriate and stylish.  Like art, I know what I liked, but that wasn’t good enough for my needs.

My friend helped me on many pieces in that area, too.  We had a little jewelry shop a few miles from work that had great selection, friendly people and an allowance for haggling.  I got many an attractive thing at an attractive price, thanks in great part to my friend’s taste and common sense.

During that sad time when I knew her departure was coming up, I enlisted her aid once last time, asking her to help me find a necklace for a friend who had a birthday coming up.  We looked at a number of pieces and my friend kept coming back to this jade cross, set in gold.  She seemed particularly drawn to it.  I wondered about the chain, since the lady I was buying it for was also tall (like my friend) and asked her if she could try it on.

Both the lady waiting on us and my friend agreed it was the right length of chain, the lady remarking how nice it looked on my friend and how much she would enjoy it.  My friend laughed and pointed out it wasn’t for her.  I’m sure this puzzled the saleslady, but she was experienced enough to handle it.

My friend spent a few more minutes looking at the necklace in the mirror and exclaiming in hushed tones how beautiful it was and how happy the woman was going to be to receive it.  Then she saw the price and whispered to me whether I really wanted to spend that much.

I asked her if she thought it was worth it and if how she would feel if she were given something like that.  She replied she would never take it off.  I smiled and told her that was good, since I was buying it for her.  I knew she wouldn’t ever select something so expensive for herself, so I tricked her into picking out something she would love, dismissing her other suggestions until I saw the right reaction from her.

Of course, she protested about spending too much on her, how she couldn’t accept it, yadda yadda yadda.  The saleslady came to my aid and, without my asking, took the piece to the back and got it knocked down by another 20% (which was substantial, thank you very much).

My friend knew me as well as anyone, probably better.  She stopped protesting and hugged me, while the saleslady smiled and, like the shoppers in the malls, asked if I needed any more friends.

My friend tells me she still wears that piece every day; it is the only piece of jewelry she wears every day other than her wedding ring.  And every year, when the Christmas decorations start getting rolled out and the ads start churning, I think about my friend and our shopping trips and that fun/sad day in the jewelry shop and I smile and think, holiday shopping can be fun for a man…all it takes is a woman’s touch.

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