I grew up working in a department store after school, and every summer and holiday break. Eventually, I worked in all of the departments in the store except Shoes and Men’s. My least favorite was a toss-up between Accessories, which included Jewelry where there were always broken chains that needed to be fixed, and Children’s. Not because of the badly-behaved children, but because of the badly-behaved parents who let their kids run wild all over the store. But that’s a topic for another day.
My favorite job in all the years I worked in the store was wrapping gifts during the Christmas season. Yes, I must be one bulb short of a full string of lights.
At the time, I probably would not have put gift-wrapping at number one, but in hindsight, it was the most fun. Picture it: pretty papers, fancy ribbons, and package decorations everywhere! Other than the occasional paper cut, gift wrapping was usually easy to do. Most things people brought to be wrapped fit into one of several standard size boxes. That’s not to say there weren’t the occasional challenges, such as luggage, a large stuffed animal, or drapery hardware (really).
On Christmas Eve, regular customers often brought Christmas cookies, or even eggnog, to share. The store’s PA system played upbeat holiday music to keep everyone in a shopping mood. Christmas Eve in the store almost qualified as a party, except for the rushed periods when a line would form, and we’d scramble to wrap packages as fast and neatly as we could. During those times, the office staff was called upon to help. They wrapped packages on the back counters, but getting to the paper, ribbons and decorations became a bumper-cars exercise in trying not to get stabbed by scissors or tangled in ribbon.
The best part of the Christmas Eve rush was watching a man approach the window with a shopping bag in hand. It was a safe bet that by Christmas Eve, romance had gone out the window, and desperation had set in. The ladies in Lingerie could sell him anything, especially if it was black, sheer and lacy. Of course, the wife or girlfriend would be back the day after Christmas to return the frothy lingerie and choose something more to her taste. But that didn’t deter their men, though some of them were beet-faced-embarrassed to hand their selection to a high school girl to wrap.
When the store finally closed, I’d head home exhausted, but definitely full of Christmas spirit. Or on a sugar high. Either way, I’d had a great time. After all, who besides Santa – and me - knew what everyone was getting for Christmas?