Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Tale of Christmas Eve (or how a seven-year-old picks out gifts at the last minute)

By Maggie Barbieri

We celebrate Christmas Eve hard in my family.  The reason for this is that when I was young, my father was a New York City police officer who worked many a holiday but usually seemed to be around for some of Christmas Eve, making it easy for my mother to load gifts under the tree and have them ready for us to open at midnight (really, eight thirty…it was dark and we couldn’t tell time).  Usually, the day before Christmas Eve, or earlier in the actual day, my father would realize that while he had been busy keeping the citizens of New York City safe, he had forgotten to get my mother a gift and had to go into serious shopping mode if he was going to have something for her to open.  This particular year, I guess I was around seven, he grabbed me, dusk just about to fall as snow dropped from the sky, and dragged me to a neighboring town where a boutique was still open.  It was called The Pearl Shoppe and sold things like giant pairs of white underpants, enormous bras, girdles with lots of snaps and elastic and some fancy duds that the well-heeled women of Rockland County wore to holiday parties.  We wandered in, immediately assaulted by a woman covered in Jean Nate cologne, and given the hard sell.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the most gorgeous silver lame (and apologies that I don’t know how to put either an accent ague or accent grave over the e) gown, hanging close to the window on a hangar, clearly an item that was being highlighted as something every woman should have.  It was hanging alone, calling to me.  As a devoted Barbie aficionado, it seemed like something my leggy doll should wear.  From there, I made the leap that it was something that my mother—the parent of four children under the age of seven, two still in diapers—should have.  After all, she could wear it to all of the holiday parties that she and my father would go to, I thought, not taking into account that the parents of four little children rarely get invited anywhere.  I posited my theory to my father.  He had a wad of cash and little time. 

He was in.

The Jean Nate lady was more than happy to wrap it up in a big box with a giant silver bow, reminding my father that here at The Pearl Shoppe, there were no returns for cash, just store credit.  But we were both blinded by the silver lame gown—it even had a bolero jacket that you could wear when it got chilly—so it didn’t matter.  In our minds, my mother would never return such a glorious item.  Why would she? 

We were both trembling with anticipation when my father handed her the box. 

“Oh, The Pearl Shoppe,” she said, clearly not as excited as we thought she might be.  She undid the beautiful bow and riffled through the tissue paper covering the most exquisite silver gown this side of Garnerville.  While two of us fought over the bow, she let the baby play with the tissue paper.  She uncovered the silver gown, throwing my grandmother a look that said, “where in God’s name am I—the mother of four little kids—going to wear a silver ball gown?” but to my father she proclaimed it the most beautiful item of clothing she had ever seen and would ever own.

It may come as a surprise to you to find out that my mother never did wear the silver gown or that I was with her when she went to return it to The Pearl Shoppe.  The Jean Nate lady was not amused.  Nor was my mother when she found out that the only thing she could exchange it for were a dozen packets of giant white underpants and an enormous bra.

I learned a few things that year:

You can never have enough giant white underpants or enormous bras.

You should never take gift advice from a girl whose fashion icon is a twelve-inch doll with inordinately long legs and is made of plastic.

Always marry a man who thinks that despite the fact that you spend the better part of your day changing diapers and wiping up spilled milk, he always think you should look like a princess.

Happy holidays from all of us at The Stiletto Gang!

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Somehow you managed to make me smile AND get misty-eyed all at the same time with this story, Maggie.

    Loved it! Thanks for sharing! (Loved the lessons at the end).

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Thanks, Laura. I can still see that gown so clearly; obviously made an impression on me. And yes, my father still thinks my mother is a princess. It's lovely to see. Maggie

  3. A wonderful Christmas story. Thank you for sharing. I am still smiling, it made my day so much better.
    Merry Christmas!

  4. What a lovely story; that kind of love is what makes life worthwhile.

  5. Thanks, Juanita. I was just talking to my mom on the phone and said "read my blog post" today. When she found out what it was about, she went hysterical. We both remarked that it is amazing what you remember through the years and how the memories are just so fresh and wonderful.

    Thanks to you, too, Lil. You're right--that kind of love is really astounding. I have great parents who had a great marriage. They make it look easy. Maggie

  6. That was really a great post! The one fun gift my dad gave to my mom he also gave to my sis and me--fake fur coats. We had a great time wearing them. Mom had a real fur coat her dad had given her years ago and the fake ones were far better looking.


  7. I just had time to read this, Maggie, and what a wonderful (and funny!) Christmas tale. Your lessons learned are priceless. ;-) I remember when I was 12 and my dad dropped me off at the mall with $100 to shop for something for him to give my mom. I bought her some clothes, but I didn't really know her size. And I'm quite sure that my 12-year-old sense of style was not her style. I've no doubt she said she loved everything (realizing who did the actual buying)...before she quietly returned it. Ah, Christmas memories!

  8. Marilyn, my sister and I had fake fur coats, too! My dad bought my mom a mink jacket (short with 3/4 sleeves, very Jackie Kennedy) that I now own. I wear it on Christmas every year and this year, will pair it with my new 60's vintage bag.

    Susan, I think every woman has a memory of shopping for their mom with their dad's money on Christmas Eve. It's universal. Maggiexo


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