I just spent $25 on a birthday gift for a friend. Fair enough. But then I forked out another $12 on the card and wrapping paper. Extreme guilt was gnawing at my innards as I handed the cash over, for surely I would be struck down by a bus for such an extravagant purchase.
As a wee tacker, I didn’t realise there was such a thing as brand new wrapping paper. I thought it came with little tears and stray chunks of sticky tape built into it. For I was born in a family of recyclers.
In our household, presents had to be unwrapped very carefully, as every scrap of paper was immediately snatched from your grasp and whisked away to be saved and re-used for years to come. The minute the mitt touched the gift, The Mothership would bellow, “OPENITSLOWLY! SLOOOOOWWWLY!”
This made Pass-The-Parcel a very long and tedious affair.
Mum also kept every single greeting card we ever received. Not because she was a sentimental women. She tore the handwritten back off and only kept the pretty picture. Why? Because the third week of January was Book Covering Week. Until I was old enough to buy Dolly magazines to cut up and collage, I was stuck with brown paper and tacky ye olde cards on my school books.
Maths: CHRISTMAS LOVE AND CHEER!
Spelling: THINKING OF YOU IN YOUR TIME OF NEED
Social Studies: LOOK WHO’S SEVEN NOW!
One side of our family was particularly big and had a policy of giving Christmas gifts to each and every bloody gummy granny and baby. This meant the first week of school holidays was Wrapping Week. The big box of christmas paper came down from the cupboard above the microwave, and Mum shuffled through her collection, sorting them into various piles. There was a certain hierarchy of recycled paper. You knew you were loved if yours was shiny. But you were the plankton of the family if you had a gaudy snowman print with chunks missing.
Still, we didn’t want them thinking we were cheap. Oh no. So we put the iron on the lowest setting and ironed the paper nice and flat, then picked off the crumbly old sticky tape while it was still warm.
On Christmas Day, the ladies of the family would perch in their beanbags, sending their grubby kids around the room to deal out the pressies. You could see their eagle eyes sizing up which gifts had the best paper, which ones had bonus ribbons or those godawful rosette things. As soon as the dinner was eaten and the blokes were snoring on the verandah, they would pounce, scratching amongst the ruins, fighting to the death for the best bits to take home and then bring right back the following year.