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A Christmas Shopping Memory

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My work takes me to out state Minnesota now and then, and the other week, I found myself walking down a small town Main Street with its stores and street lights all decked out for the holidays. It was snowing and I was suddenly transported back to a Christmas before Wal-Mart's or mall stores; a Christmas when the stores along another Main Street were all I had.

It was freshman year of high school. There was this girl I kind of liked, although I had never spoken to her. For reasons I don't understand to this day, I felt obligated to buy her something. All those feelings and hormones were surging. I had no idea what to do with them. Had it been a year earlier, I could have just punched her in the arm hard when we passed in the hall. But I was a high school man now. And now I needed -- really needed -- to use the last of my summer lawn mowing money to buy her something.

The perfume counter at the drugstore seemed like a good place to start. But the drugstore smelled like my grandfather's foot powder. And in spite of names like "Evening In Paris" and "Chanel Number Five" the perfumes smelled like the local funeral parlor. I moved on.

I wandered down the notions store gift aisle, looking for something in my price range. But the wife half of the husband-and-wife team who owned the store had chosen all the Christmas merchandise. She was well past fifty. My tastes were running vaguely hot. Hers were decidedly hot-flashy. There was nothing. I moved on.

At the record store, I searched bins of 45s looking for one that expressed how I felt. Like my hormones, they ran the gamut from sultry to stupid. The right song just wasn't there.

I finally settled on a rack for 45 RPM records -- a little ceramic dog with a coiled wire body. The records were supposed to fit between the coils. It was the stupidest thing I think I have ever seen, but I took it home secretly -- and secretly wrapped it. And the next day at school, after lunch I walked up and handed it to her.

"This is for you," I said. "Merry Christmas." And I never spoke to her again.