Saturday, September 6, 2014


It's the custom to set up a prettily-draped little side table for the presents at a child's birthday party, and just looking around the room during “cake,” I noticed one definite of-the-now thing:   The presents were in bags, every one, from dolls to tea-sets to books, lined up like bright soldiers in uniforms of Elsa, Olaf, Cinderella, flowers and gingham and dots.   Even the youngest, now, seem to rate the muted greige of the almost-grocery bags, the sort of sophisticated subdue of today’s weddings, with their little modern, modestly mode touches of jute and twine, and the tiny commercial tags ringed round with metal, like some small utilitarian part of commerce strayed into a fete.    Not a single dainty tissued package, no softly-wrapped pastel-covered boxes or toys or those enticing shapes like half-a-Christmas-Cracker, with the poufy array of fluff pony-tailed atop---none of that old-fashioned stuff of which party-dreams are made.

And not a scrap of Scotch tape in the house, lest you mention the bits holding the posters to the wall, and though the tissue abounds in its pastelly, rustly glory, it’s a mere garnish, stuffed and arranged atop the presents like enormous pom-poms, as if every bag contains a tiny Marge Simpson or captive Don King. 

And its proper role now seems to be inside the box, to show proper reverence and care for the contents.

Tissue paper is one of the wonders of the world.   Just its smooth aura, lying folded on the shelf, with a little belt of paper waist-around---that’s something to pick up and take home, even if there’s no gift-occasion in sight.   It unfolds in myriad colours, gently molding round the gift or rounding sharp corners with a cushion of soft layers.   Lots of layers, for it’s a peek-a-boo substance, needing several sheets to hide its contents, and is a bit of a tease, as well, for many an honoree has picked up and squinted at a present, turning it over and over, pressing the paper down onto the box, to try to read the elusive print for a hint.

Back in the far-away days of my memories, party tables were covered with a tissue-paper of their own---a sort of stiff tiny-waffle surface, with swoops and swirls of printed ribbon and HAPPY BIRTHDAY or a frieze of cakes and flowers around the edge.   And on those tables, a growing pile of tissued gifts---and no child cared or noticed that most of the tissue was pre-wrinkled, from saving and folding from past use.   A stray bit of leftover Scotch tape around the edges, the hint of a torn-away sticker, or an impression of a smaller-size box in the folds---those were unheeded, and only added to the charm.   Finding a piece of that paper in the closet on a birthday afternoon, smoothing it with our grubby hands, and painstakingly wrapping it around the box of handkerchiefs or little bottle of cologne, with perhaps a strand or two of ribbon-curl---that was a much a part of the pleasure of the guest role as Drop the Handkerchief.

Rolls of printed paper were mostly for Christmas, with three recurring themes:  Battalions of Santas, great forests of snowy evergreens, and wreaths-and-glowing-lanterns, as if the Old Lamplighter had just made his rounds.

But tissue, now---that calls memories, of the satiny feel of the stuff, the festive air of the occasion, the pastels somehow taking on the sweet flavour of the pale green leaves and every-child-gets-a-pink-frosting-rose of the cake.   There was a sweetness that surrounded all those things---the sublime vanilla/sugar taste of the Birthday Cake, and the cool crisp rustle of the tissue on the presents---I can still taste them all equally in those sweet memories.   And I have a gentle sorrow for all those great swaths and poufs of tissue, lovely and useful for their brief moment, then pulled out and immediately stuffed into the waiting Glad-Bag with the cake-smeared plates---there’s a lot of history that could be made there, and I want to save it all.

I can see me in future years, a dotty old lady in a purple hat, rummaging through the trash as the children head back out to play.

And she STILL won't have learned to set the margins on this page.


donna baker said...

I too have begun using bags more and more lately. It still drives me crazy trying to change my blog so I just leave it be.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel,

What a beautiful ode to tissue paper this is!

Sadly, as with so many things these days, speed is of the essence. So, if a gift can be plunged into a bag and presented as it is then, voila, gift giving is made simple and easy.

But, how lovely it is to see something beautifully wrapped. The excitement of removing layers of wrapping to discover what is beneath. And, as we were instructed as children, not to rip the paper so that it could be used again.

Our friend, Richard, wraps beautifully. A gift will be in a perfectly sized coloured box, cosseted on a pillow of tissue strips, wrapped in diaphanous layers of tissue and a satin ribbon bow to finish it all off! Joy!

racheld said...

Good Morning, Donna!

I, too, love the convenience of the bags, and can count on Caro to have the perfect one for any occasion in her great treasure-house of a "Christmas Closet," which contains a dozen of those immense flat Tupperwarish boxes, laden with the accessories and table-garnishes and wraps and d├ęcor of holidays.

ANd I know I'll go bnck and re-post this whole thing---if you get past three spaces between paragraphs, the "delete" becomes "Add" and it flew down the page like a diving porpoise.

always good to have you drop in,


racheld said...

And Hello to You Two!

I just got immersed in the feel and the texture and all the past glories of birthdays and showers, and away I went, into a fluffy, tissue-y fantasy.

You know, I also love the printed kind, the crackly kind, and I also have, in a separate closet upstairs on a tip-top shelf where reside things-seldom-thought-of and never used any more, about six rolls of splendid, exquisite WALLPAPER which I used for years on presents---so very Victorian in the big-blossomed roses, and the actual MOIRE shimmer of the rolls of green.

But your rhapsodies of tissue and satin ribbon fade my little wrinkled memories to naught---the descriptions of your friend Richard's gifts is simply sublime. Diaphanous layers and cosseting pillows---perfectly described, sumptuously imagined, the care and artistry and materials equaling the gift in import.

The girl across the street, of the many petticoats and porch-swing Saturdays with lemonade and magazines, whilst the rest of us up and down the block sweated over our car-washing and lawn-mowing chores, had a tee-minecy pair of gold scissors shaped like a swan, which she used to snip each and every tape-junction of her gift wrap.

The unveiling of her pile of presents took an hour every year, I think, as she made an absolute ballet of her unwrapping, (but then we were reveling in all-we-wanted from that never-ending punchbowl of Mattie's lemonade).

There's just something about the rustle, the dignified crackle, of those layers of tissue---I stood and watched not long ago as a very deft young woman wrapped a piece of delicate lingerie at the next counter. Her precise folding and perfect fitting of the tissue into the box, and the double-fold on the ends of her store's distinctive white-on-white crisp paper were worthy of one of the great shops in Paris.

Just watching was a treat, like seeing a master of origami turn out a frog that jumps.

And you two and Richard are very blessed to have such lovely, accomplished, kind friends.


Kim S. said...

I have noticed this, too. Everything seems to come in bags. I understand it because it is easy and there are so many pretty ones. But I love a well wrapped gift. Oddly enough, it is my dad who instilled that love in me. He wraps a beautiful gift – makes perfect bows by hand and even glues little bits and pieces of flowers/bells/greenery to the packages. In the past few years you’ve been able to find beautiful tissue paper in stores again. I’m sure it is intended for nestling, but I use it to wrap, too. I remember getting a Christmas box with packages from our English relatives – everything was ‘soft wrapped’ (no boxes) and glued together with Christmas stickers and seals. It was like getting a package from the 1950’s!

Tonja said...

Oh, Rachel! We have to be related in some way or another! We have so many of the same likes. I have stacks of beautiful tissue paper. When I find a lovely patterned paper in a store, I just can't leave it there for someone to come along and buy...they may not realize just the treasure it is. Everything looks better in a tissue paper slip! Before it goes into its outer dress! But, I much as I love the colors and patterns...I have recently found some that is kraft paper grocery sacks only a little lighter. And, I taken to wrapping the inner and outer gift in it and tying it with some jute or twine! Love the look! And I do have some of those tags you speak of, too! Usually, though I make my own tags. On Christmas Day, when everyone is opening gifts and throwing paper this way and Don will go and get a garbage bag to collect it all. I much prefer to let it lay there and form a Christmas carpet for a while! But, some of the more beautiful wrappings I pull out and smooth carefully and they go into my stash. Oh, and one more thing....because you are probably the only one who would appreciate this...kindred spirits that we are....I save some of the To/From tags from special people. I have to Tonja from Mama, To Tonja from Pop, from all my boys when they were little and sweet ones from family. I plan to collage them on a canvass one day. Blessings to you and thanks for bringing these things to my mind!