It’s that time of year again when I have to start thinking about Christmas shopping. And believe me, just the thought of it causes my palms to get clammy and my heart to race.
Every Christmas season I struggle for weeks until I finally come up with what I feel certain is a perfect gift for each person on my gift list…only to have it turn out to be a complete disaster.
For example, I still vividly remember the year I decided to buy my mother a necklace she had seen a woman wearing and raved about, saying she would love to have one like it. Her description of it turned out to be something called a ladder-style necklace, which was popular at the time. The pendant resembled a tiny gold ladder, narrower at the top and wider at the bottom. About two-thirds of the way down the ladder, there was a rung with a diamond on it.
I figured that for once, it would be a snap to buy my mother a gift she was certain to love...and with no racking of my brain involved.
And once again, I’d figured wrong.
I searched in the fine-jewelry departments in two big department stores, and then in two jewelry stores...with no luck. Finally, I entered a third jewelry store. A sales clerk who was at the far end of the store spotted me and made the 20-yard dash in two seconds flat. I barely had set one eye on the display case of diamond necklaces when she leaned over the counter and gushed, “Aren’t they all just beee-yoo-tiful?”
I frowned and sighed. “Sorry, no, they’re not. The necklace I want isn’t here.” I turned to leave.
“Wait!” the clerk called out (obviously eager to still snag a commission). “I’ll get our goldsmith. He can make you anything you want.”
Before I could open my mouth to protest (because I knew anything that had to be specially made would require me to rob a bank to pay for it), the goldsmith appeared, asking me to describe the necklace I wanted. I did, and after I was done, he took a pen and pad of paper out of his pocket and quickly sketched something.
“Is this it?” he asked, holding up the pad.
His drawing of the pendant was perfect, absolutely perfect. I was impressed.
“I can have this for you in three days,” he said. He then quoted a price that was far below what I’d anticipated. I ordered the necklace.
Eight days later, I received a call from a woman at the jewelry store. “Your necklace is ready!” she excitedly said. “It’s absolutely gorgeous! Stunning! I can’t wait for you to see it!”
I rushed over to the mall.
The goldsmith, smiling with pride, showed me a necklace. It was a solitaire diamond, bezel set, dangling from a big gold triangle through which a chain was strung.
What do you think?” he asked.
“It’s lovely,” I said, feeling just slightly impatient. “But I’m really anxious to see my necklace, so please, don’t keep me waiting any longer!”
The goldsmith’s face dropped. “This IS your necklace.”
I just stared at him, waiting for him to tell me he was joking. Unfortunately, he was serious.
“Do you still have that sketch you drew for me?” I asked. He quickly retrieved it. I took it from him and looked at it, then laid it on the counter and set the necklace right next to it.
“So tell me honestly,” I said. “Do you really think this necklace resembles the one in the sketch?”
He shrugged and shook his head. “No, but it’s still a beautiful necklace, so you shouldn’t be disappointed.”
Again, I just stared at him. I suspected he'd either forgotten all about making my necklace or he'd tried and thought it was too much work, so he'd just grabbed some other necklace he'd had out back.
Several moments passed before I finally said, “Then what you’re saying is if I were a seamstress and you ordered a business suit from me, it would be okay for me to give you a sequined gown instead, just because it’s beautiful?”
His cheeks flushed. “Well, no, of course not. What on earth would I do with a gown?”
“Probably the same thing I’m going to do with this necklace,” I said, louder than I’d intended. “I’m not going to buy it! ”
Within seconds, the store’s manager was by my side, asking if there was a problem. I showed him the sketch, then the necklace. His expression told me he also thought the goldsmith should invest in a good pair of bifocals.
“I will personally make this for you,” the manager said, studying the sketch.
“There's not enough time left now,” I muttered.
“You will have it tomorrow. I give you my word on that.”
Sure enough, the next afternoon he called and told me the necklace was ready. I rushed back to the mall.
The manager looked as if he’d just crawled out of bed. His hair was messy, his eyes were red and puffy, and his shirt was wrinkled.
“I spent the entire night making this necklace for you,” he told me. “But I guarantee you will be pleased.”
Call me fussy, but I wasn’t pleased. The pendant looked like a short, fat letter “H.” The sides weren't long and tapered, so they made it look chunky instead of graceful. Still, I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the poor guy I didn’t like it, even though I had visions of my mother being asked what the "H" stood for whenever she wore it.
I sighed. “It’s fine. Wrap it up.”
The manager was so relieved, he grabbed my hand and vigorously shook it, then said, “I’m so pleased! For a moment there, I had a sinking feeling you didn’t like it!”
The man definitely was perceptive.
After I left the store, I wandered into J.C. Penney’s in search of a handbag. As I walked past their fine- jewelry counter, something in the case happened to catch my eye. I moved closer to investigate. It was the exact necklace I'd wanted for my mother all along…at half of what I’d just paid for the short, fat “H.”
It’s not often you see a grown woman stomping her foot and shouting, “No! No! Nooooo!” in the center aisle of J.C. Penney’s jewelry department.
To this day, I'm still hoping they thought I was shouting, “Ho, ho, ho!”
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Sally Breslin is a native New Englander and an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: email@example.com