|the dreidel in question, from Ace Gift Wrapping Service|
He must have been somewhere in the seven-to-nine-year-old range, a gangly boy with sandy colored hair and fair skin. He walked up to my booth with that easy courage some kids have, self-assured and care-free.
“What’s this?” he asked me. “Gift wrapping?”
“That’s right,” I said, “do you have any gifts you need wrapped?”
“No,” he said. “How do you do it?”
“Oh you know, I’ve had lots of practice. Have you even done it before?”
“No, but I want to. I’ve seen other people do it.”
He wandered into the booth and examined my wrapping papers. “Is it hard?” he asked.
“Nah, just takes practice really. Like everything.” How tedious. I was that grown-up proselytizing practice, and right from the get go too; but frankly it’s true, and practice is second nature when you’re a kid.
“What’s over there?” he asked.
“That? That’s the crafts' station. You want to go make something?”
His mother and little brother had already sat down at a table, so he left to join them.
It wasn’t my idea to roommate at the gift fair with the crafts station. Some people were even going so far as to call it the “kid's room” since it attracted a young crowd eager to make robots and monsters and castles from the odds and ends on the tables.
And then there I was, sitting alone in my booth eager to wrap some presents. No one was buying, though. It was too early in the season, and shoppers were out, but not for gifts. They bought things for themselves, food mostly. “Do you have gifts you need wrapped?” I chirped as they strolled into the room.
“Gifts? Oh, not yet. Yeah, no, I haven’t bought anything yet. That’s a great idea, though. Is this your card? Where else will you be? Can I sign your mailing list?”
Well, at least the response was positive, even if I did resort to wrapping empty boxes to look busy.
Suddenly, a voice even chirpier than my own asked, “Excuse me, but can you wrap this?” The kid was back in the booth, standing at my side. He held out his craft: four of those artificial wine bottle corks, bright orange, hot glued together to form a sort of long quatrefoil. As far as crafts go, it was ultra minimal. Without a string or hook, it couldn’t even be that one ornament that gets put on the tree year after year strictly for nostalgia. I took it from him and looked at it.
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll show you how.”
I pulled a scrap of glossy red paper from the recycling box. His quatrefoil was roughly a two inch cube so the scrap was perfect.
“First you want to lay it on the paper like this,” I explained.
“Can you use this?” he asked. He’d sorted through my swatches and pulled out the paper with the cheery snowmen on it. I hesitated. I hadn’t been paid to wrap a single gift all day. Sure I’d wrapped some empty boxes, but I could use those for photos, for staging. Did I really want to cut from the roll just so this kid could have his whatever-it-was wrapped? His cork thing? His thing he probably made just so I could wrap it for him?
“Of course I can.” I pulled a little paper off the roll and showed him how much to cut. “So then you’re going to fold it like this,” I explained. He stood at my elbow and watched attentively as I folded and taped. “Then you tie the ribbon just like you tie your shoes, see?”
“This seems really hard.”
“I’m telling you, practice. I’ve wrapped hundreds of gifts, maybe thousands.”
“Have you ever helped Santa Claus?” he asked.
“Santa Claus?” Oh right, that guy.
“Yeah, have you ever worked for him?” His plain, matter-of-factness caught me off guard. There was no wonder or magic here, just the basic reality of Santa Claus needing a full staff in order to fulfill his duty as global deliverer of presents.
I thought about two friends of mine, and husband and wife who have a son about this kid’s age. I’ve wrapped their presents the last few years. They always have a couple rolls of special paper to use on the gifts from Santa. It’s Santa’s Paper. So yes, in fact I had worked for the man.
“Yeah. Let me see, I did last year…” I thought back to those rolls of paper and played it super cool. “Hm, year before that too, and before that. So three years. I’ve worked for him the last three years. Probably this year, too.”
This seemed logical and reasonable, maybe even a tad impressive.
I handed him the little gift, all wrapped with a bow. Pleased, he took it to show his mother and brother, but something caught his eye.
“Dreidel!” he exclaimed.
I’d wrapped one of the empty boxes in metallic silver paper with an electric blue bow and a tiny orange, blue, and silver dreidel on a string. I’d set it up as a decoy outside my booth, to attract shoppers.
“I love dreidel. We celebrate Hanukkah too,” he boasted happily. “I’m Jewish.”
“I’m kinda Jewish,” I said. But his mother was already scooping him toward the door. “Happy Hanukkah,” I called as they turned down the hallway.