Mark Ballard

Wrapping, unwrapping and recycling gifts

Her fingernail slid across the package with the precision of a sharp skate blade on ice. We could see the determination on her face as she tried to break the scotch-taped seal of the gift wrap without, in any way, harming the paper. We watched in amazement as she performed this task each and every year. My grandmother was the first person I knew who recycled.

Every year when my family would gather to exchange gifts, you could be sure to see my grandmother use this form of recycling. After all the gifts were passed out, no bell had to ring to tell most of us to unwrap our gifts. We ravaged them like I have seen my Chihuahua attack his stuffed toy on occasion — with aggression and force.

Piles of torn and wadded wrapping paper filled the floor of the room like little hay stacks in a field. It was hard to believe that what had taken hours and hours to wrap could be unwrapped in a matter of seconds. A large bag was passed around the room to collect the used paper and a separate one to collect all the bows. We knew to save all the bows we had purchased, but we never gave the wrapping paper a second thought. That is, most of us.

Long after we were all finished and either elated or disappointed, my grandmother still sat leaned forward in her chair as she continued to open her gifts. She paid no attention to us as she continued on her task. After all, in her mind, she had all day to save the wrapping paper from the dreaded trash can.

When the last piece of tape was sliced with her fingernail, freeing the box from its paper confinement, she would carefully sit the box down on the floor. Still not knowing the contents of the box, she gently folded up the piece of gift wrap. Then, and only then, would she open the box to see her gift.

She would stack all her boxes filled with gifts together and place her folded up and slightly used gift wrap and bows on top. She placed all of this by her purse. We knew not to touch her stash, because she planned to take it home and store it in a drawer until the next year.

When that next Christmas rolled around, our gifts would be wrapped in the exact same paper we had used the year before to wrap hers. Most of the folds did not match, and there were white blemishes on the paper where the tape we used had removed the design. It didn’t matter much to us because we knew we had a gift inside the recycled paper. But there was one thing for sure; once we got hold of the paper, it would not be recycled again.

Watching my grandmother recycle her gift wrap is where I first got the idea to unwrap and rewrap gifts. I don’t know if you knew this about me, but I am very familiar with re-wrapping a gift.

I used to do it all the time growing up. I would wait until the coast was clear, sneak into our living room and look under our Christmas tree for the gifts that had my name on them. I would then, using the techniques I had learned from my grandmother, carefully unwrap my gifts. I would place the wrapping paper aside and look inside the boxes to see what I had.

Then I would re-wrap the gifts and place them back under the tree. My job was a little easier than granny’s because my piece of wrapping paper was going back on the same box from which it came. All I had to do was make sure to match everything up and tape back at the exact same places. It was my secret for years. Or, at least I thought it was.

After I married and had children of my own, my mother shared with me that she knew I had tampered with my gifts when I was growing up. Like a deer caught in headlights, I stood there with a look of disbelief on my face. Feeling like a child again, I asked, “Mother, how did you know?” She answered, “Because they were wrapped better the second time!” We laughed.

Maybe this process was like gift wrapping college for me. Maybe this is why I wrap my gifts so elaborately today. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t be able to offer you gift wrapping tips and techniques if I had not tampered for years and years with mine.

One thing I do know is I am still doing it. A friend called the other day and wanted me to sign some of my merchandise she was giving that she had already wrapped. “Can you do it?” she asked. I said, “Are you kidding me? Of course!”

I hope each and every one of you are, at this moment, tearing into your gifts with your family and dear friends. Merry, merry Christmas from our home to yours.

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Mark Allen Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA; fax them to (478)474-4390 or call (478) 757-6877.