True South

Nothing Too Personal, Please;
We’re Southern

By Susan Kelly

As a college junior, I’d been dating this fellow for about three months, and Christmas loomed. I wanted to give him a baby blue crewneck sweater for Christmas. This was the height of the preppy look, and he was an actual preppy and he wore the same shutter-green crewneck sweater all the time.

“No,” my mother said. “It’s too personal. You shouldn’t give anything so personal.”

I found this dictate amazing, and ridiculous. I was in love.

“Give him a skeet shooter and a box of clay pigeons,” my father suggested.

Hmm. Masculine, outdoorsy, and to boot, preppy. Perfect.

Christmas looms again, and before you ponder, peruse, pay, wrap and tag, I’m here to advise what, decades later, is still too personal. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been dating, married, a parent, a relation, or a friend. In these genres of gifts, angels fear to tread.

Dopp kits and toiletries bags. He/she likes the hanging kind. She/he likes the zippered sort. She/he wants pouches on the inside so Q-tips and the shower cap he/she stole from the hotel won’t mingle with the tweezers and nail clippers. She/he wants an insert for the Ambien; he/she likes her own 3-oz. containers, not the ones that come with it. He/she doesn’t want a white interior because it gets filthy with spillage; she/he wants a white interior so she/he can 409 it. Square and squatty; leather or pleather or backpack fabric; prints; plain. The choices are legion and so are the possibilities for failure and disappointment.

Bathrobes. He likes terry. No, terry is hot, makes him look fat. She wants short sleeves. Knee-length. Mid-calf. To the floor ’cause she feels like Katharine Hepburn in some movie. Seersucker belts knot and twist in the wash. Cotton has to be ironed. Pockets. No pockets. Cuffed sleeves. No, cuffs drag in the scrambled eggs. Zip front. Fleece. Flannel. White. Striped. Pastel. Print. Practical. Avoid at all costs.

Wallets and billfolds. Where even to begin? Has no use for photo places. Insufficient slots. Too many slots. Wants all credit cards visible. Must have ring for keys. Likes change in a separate compartment. Needs a fold-over. Square, long, rectangular. Too heavy. Prefers a snap. Prefers magnetized. Really just wanted a money clip.

For Christmas senior year, I by-God gave that boyfriend that sweater. Two Christmases later, I gave him another one. By then we were on really personal terms anyway: married. J. Crew’s first catalog was out, featuring gangly, tousled-haired girls and grinning, rough-bearded guys playing like puppies around station wagons and silos and sea grass. I gave a J. Crew sweater to a guy who still has his leather Tretorn tennis shoes, and the shawl-collared tuxedo he bought at Alexander Julian’s in 1972. Christmas morning, he stood there in a bulky-knit, boat-neck garment with no ribbing at the waist or wrists. He looked like a cross between a painter and a fisherman. A French one.

“You got marketed, didn’t you?” he said. “Nothing personal,” he added, “but don’t ever give me clothes again.”

Merry Christmas! Here’s your book/gin/gift certificate.  OH

In a former life, Susan Kelly published five novels, won some awards, did some teaching, and made a lot of speeches. These days, she’s freelancing and making up for all that time she spent indoors writing those five novels.

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