by Melanie McCranie Mansfield
Gift giving is a favorite pastime of mine. As much fun as there is in receiving something, there’s no comparison to actually giving it.
I’ve always felt this way, even as a little kid. In fact, the most memorable gift hunts were when my little sister and I would hop on our bikes and head downtown to Main Street in order to try and find our mother as many trinkets as the twenty dollars we were given would buy. At the time, it wasn't as much about quality as it was about quantity. Since we were shopping the finest stores our small town had to offer, Maureen and I thought we were getting both! Hind sight is 20/20, yes?
We’d always start out at the Kamien’s cosmetics counter. Mama needed powder. Not really, but we were certain that if she had some, she’d use it... and maybe let us borrow the puff from time to time. I can remember the facial expressions of the older lady behind the tall glass case. She’d warn us with just the lifting of her eyebrow to avoid touching and leaving finger prints on the counters she‘d just cleaned.
Inevitably, at some point, someone in the store would utter the phrase that seemed to open heaven’s gate for us. "Those are Lonnye Sue Sims’ girls." Were those angels singing? We quickly learned that our twenty bucks wouldn’t be necessary. There was "an account." Funny how much you’re willing to spend once you don’t actually have to turn over the cash right then! We’d almost always choose the Sand and Sable powder. When I left for college, I think Mama had four or five full boxes of the stuff hidden beneath her unmentionables.
Next stop . . . The Fireside Shop. This antique store and gift shop was like a wonderland to me. I came to know its nooks and crannies like the back of my hand. Most people who visited were totally unaware of the treasures to be found inside the drawers of those expensive antique chests. I’m guessing this is where lots of little broken or never-bought items were put to make room for the newer, nicer things.
To Maureen and me, a drawer at the Fireside Shop was the hot spot -- the place where our money would go the farthest. We’d dig and hunt and scrounge, constantly asking the very patient owner how much this or that cost. I’m quite certain she made up prices on the spot and kept them low enough so we could leave with a bag full. In return, she was left with an empty drawer in which more broken and never-bought items could be placed for the next gift-giving holiday. This was a fair trade off, I’d say. Mama still has the faux Chinese lipstick case we found there . . . and she hasn’t consistently worn lipstick in ages!
In my teen years, the Fireside Shop was owned by one of Mama’s best friends. The gifts got distinctively nicer at that point. Miss Neysa gave us our own “account," and I’m quite certain not a dime was ever placed on it. At least I never got the bill.
There were other stores that Mo and I wandered in and out of from time to time. But none offered us as much for our money . . . probably because they were owned by shrewd businessmen and women who didn’t give a hoot who our mother was. Obviously they weren’t native to Cleveland, Mississippi.
After spending hours picking out our purchases, we’d head home to wrap up the exotic and rare goodies we’d uncovered. Each would get its own box and elegant paper, as well as tons of scissor-slid ribbon that made the perfect decorative coils. Mama would “ooo” and “ahh” appropriately over each present she opened, making Maureen and me feel as if we’d given her gifts fit for a queen. She had fine-tuned the art of mock amazement and was skilled at phrasing sentences just so, leaving us believing we‘d read her mind and bought the very thing she would have picked out had she been the shopper -- a skill that I, myself, am learning to hone now that I have a few bargain hunting kids of my own. Maybe I’ll give them a twenty and see how creative they can be.
I’m certain there’s a box of powder with my name written on it somewhere.
Melanie McCranie Mansfield, a native of Cleveland, Mississippi, has been transplanted to Kinston, North Carolina, by way of Helena, Arkansas. She's the daughter of USADEEPSOUTH writer Lonnye Sue Sims Pearson and the mother of two boys and a girl. Melanie is a homeschooling mom, a portrait photographer, a custom stationer, a part-time interior decorator and an amateur web designer. How she has time to write anything is beyond the laws of time and space. You can learn more about her family and businesses by visiting their personal site Unblinkable.com. Contact Melanie at Melanie@Unblinkable.com.
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