It was Christmas 1967, and my mum thought it would be a great character builder for my twin sister Teresa and me to have part-time jobs for the holidays. Our Aunt Kaye owned a Mexican import furniture store in Studio City, California. She offered us both jobs as gift wrappers. It didn’t matter that Teresa and I could barely tie our shoes, but gift wrapping? What was she thinking?
On our first day, Mum dropped us off at Aunt Kaye’s shop. Teresa and I were so excited to help Mum out for the holidays. Money was tight; having our own spending money to purchase gifts for our friends and family would be good.
Our aunt’s store was a cornucopia of Mexican items that included furniture, lamps and smaller items for the home. Aunt Kaye regularly made treks to Mexico to pick up wares, and she made a healthy living with both her strong business acumen and shrewd business tactics. Still, she was a generous aunt, and she was kind to take us on during one of her busiest seasons.
That day, Teresa and I were dressed in jean garb, which was popular at the time. We both had on blue bell-bottoms with tie-dye streaks. We waltzed into our aunt’s shop and could tell right away she was not in a good mood. Perhaps it was our hippie bell-bottoms? Or the Christmas frenzy? I was used to seeing Aunt Kaye at parties where she made liberal use of the boxed Chablis being served. She was always very festive. But the aunt that greeted us at the store was a different person.
Aunt Kaye ushered us into the back of the store and gave us quick instructions on wrapping gifts. No doubt, because we were female, wrapping gifts should have come naturally to us. But remember, we were both tomboys and playing ball came easily for us. Christmas ribbons and bows? Blah! They reminded me of the Barbie dolls we demolished when we were nine. Still, we were here to help and make a few bucks. It wasn’t rocket science. It was paper and bows.
My aunt ripped off a large square of holiday paper and quickly wrapped an oddly shaped candleholder.
“See? There you have it! Once you wrap the gift, bring it up to the counter,” she instructed. It sounded simple enough.
As you can imagine, Teresa and I were like Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory, and soon the gifts needing to be wrapped were stacking up. Many items were oddly shaped, making it even more difficult to figure out how to wrap them.
“Maybe we should have signed up to move furniture for Aunt Kaye,” I said dismally to Teresa, as I ripped off a piece of shiny paper that was about 1-inch too short to wrap the Mayan wall ornament in front of me. “Oh, wow. What should I do with this piece? It doesn’t fit!”
Teresa shrugged. I looked around for something that might accommodate the small sheet of wrapping paper, but most of the items were bigger. Quickly, I wadded up the paper and stuffed it into the wastebasket behind the counter. Soon, the wastebasket was about half full with discarded holiday paper we had botched. I moved the wastebasket farther behind the counter, hoping Aunt Kaye wouldn’t get wind of our progress, or lack thereof.
Trying to make Christmas ribbon and bows was just as difficult. Using a pair of scissors, I couldn’t get that ribbed ribbon to curl, no matter how hard I tried. Instead of curly bows, the ribbon looked like limp linguini — or even a bad hairdo — hopelessly piled high on top of the poorly wrapped item. Even I didn’t want to open the gift.
Aunt Kaye came to check on our progress and saw the wastebasket with discarded holiday paper. Her scowl told us all we needed to know. She called our mum to come pick us up. From the sound of our aunt’s voice, I knew we were let go, fired, finished.
Mum probably bought Aunt Kaye an extra bottle of booze that year to compensate for all the paper and scotch tape we wasted. To this day, I’m still dismal at wrapping packages. Thankfully, someone invented gift bags, which solved all my wrapping problems, especially at Christmastime.