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.