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Unwrapping childhood memories and a great use of 641 staples
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

It has been perhaps 14 years since I last wrapped a gift.

I do not have other people wrap gifts either. It is either a gift bag — which I rarely use — or I take the grandkids shopping while they pick out something they need but can’t afford such as a decent pair of work boots.

I am not a Grinch. I don’t eschew the trappings of Christmas. Nor do I “trash” gift wrapping based on environmental concerns, although I realize that one can make a strong argument against it based on a wide variety of issues.

I just don’t see the point.

By that I don’t mean the gift giving itself or even wrapping it. I’m referencing the extent that an extremely select few will go so far that they wrap their anal retentive tendencies not just into the work of art they are creating with colored paper, ribbon, scissors, tape, and select add-ons that but also how they judge gifts they receive by how they are wrapped.

Such encounters for most people are rare or else few and far between.

I had the pleasure of enjoying it every Christmas courtesy of my older brother Richard. Don’t get me wrong, he was my brother. It’s just that an anal retentive personality re-enforced by being insistent his way is always correct sharpened by training and working as an architect and structural engineer who viewed perfection as the highest virtues made his approach to gift wrapping worthy of Rembrandt.

By no means am I “normal,” whatever that means. As a kid — and even now — I have a well-earned reputation of being a klutz driven in a large degree by hideous eyesight that kept me running into things until I was 6 when someone figured out I might need glasses. Compound that further by being a natural lefty forced to be right-handed — try holding a regular pair of scissors when you are left-handed. And for good measure I am about as sedate at times as the Energizer Bunny hooked up to a Tesla Super Charger Station.

As a young kid, I loved wrapping packages. My mom let me start doing so when I was 7. What I turned out had ragged scissor lines, corners that were far from looking as if they had been creased, hideously uneven “flaps” on the end where you fold the wrapping paper, and enough tape that I was lucky to get 10 presents to a roll.

Richard’s gift wrapping could put a brain surgeon to shame in the precision department and make Hollywood’s best set designer envious.

Even though he could cut a straight line without help, Richard penciled wrapping paper and then stretched it taunt before using an X-acto knife to make the cut making the highly talented surgeon who did my hernia surgery look like an amateur. Boxes he wrapped had precisely the same amount of paper on each end to fold. I know this because for a number of years he used a ruler to make sure that was the case. His corners weren’t just creased. They were worthy of being displayed at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Even the Marine Corps’ best drill sergeant when it comes to nailing a crease in his dress blues would be impressed with the creases Richard made.

Making it worse he could do things with a pair of scissors and a length of ribbon that would leave Martha Stewart awestruck. And he did it all acting as if he were Mr. Scrooge when he came to using Scotch tape.

Those traits show through loud and clear in his life’s work from every home or bank he created to the painstaking restoration of the historic Placer County Courthouse overlooking Interstate 80 in Auburn.

As for his gift wrapping aimed at one upping Curry & Ives as well as Hallmark, it impressed a lot of aunts and the lady next door but it didn’t resonate one way or another with me until he started slamming my gift wrapping.

This was not a big brother picking on a little brother type of thing. He was outright critical of my work and ragged on it with all the self-righteous indignation a reviewer of five-star restaurants would spew if assigned to do a piece on the ambiance and food at Del Taco.

All gifts I wrapped were fair targets. But how I wrapped the gift I got him was fair game in his mind for an all-out critique.

This was always done as we were unwrapping gifts Christmas Eve. We had a tradition where we took turns unwrapping one by one. I didn’t pay much attention to his remarks when I was 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 years old. My mom, however, would always tell him knock it off.

It wasn’t until the Christmas when I was 13 that he finally irked me. It was the first Christmas where I had earned the money to buy the gifts I was giving by working after school and weekends cleaning up The Squirrel Cage — my mom’s drive-in restaurant.

It sounds silly now, but I was proud of myself for being able to find several boxcar models that he had mentioned he wanted to get for his pride and joy — a custom-made 16 by 16-foot HO-scale model railroad layout he created in our basement.

That year he wasn’t necessarily more intense or vicious in his ridicule of how I wrapped his gift. When he was through opening it, he didn’t thank me for the models. Instead he said if I was going to get him a nice gift to let him wrap it next year so it would match what was inside.

My mom was furious. As for me, I just smiled.

I can’t remember what I bought Richard for the next Christmas but I do remember how I wrapped it.

It was one of those gifts you get where it is wrapped in a box and then placed in a bigger box and wrapped. Except on mine I wrapped six boxes inside of each other.

Did I mention I didn’t use any tape except for the outside box?

What I did use was Richard’s staple gun. I unloaded almost a whole box of staples — 641 to be exact — to secure the wrapping paper to all of the boxes except the outside box. That got my best cut and tape job that I freely admit is pretty bad.

Richard did his usual ridicule of my wrapping abilities as he started taking the paper off the outside box.

By the time he had gotten down to the sixth and final box he was border-line seething to everyone’s amusement. He was starting to read me the riot act when my mom stopped him and told him that is what he should expect for continuing to belittle someone who obviously doesn’t share the same abilities and passions he has. And, for added measure, she noted that while he could create and build things that were amazing — he had made a scale-model of our grandmother’s house out of balsa wood when he was in kindergarten that looked like a high schooler had done it — I could do other things much better than he could.

It was best Christmas I had involving my older brother.  It wasn’t because I one upped him or got even. Instead he stopped thinking I was supposed to live up to his standards instead of my own.

It was a great waste of 641 staples.