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Sage Shopping Advice from a Neiman Marcus Stalwart

How an out-of-print Texas anthology revealed what is likely the wisest Black Friday tip I’ve ever heard.

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Photograph by Kevin Reid/Getty

Books have been one of the great loves of my life. I own books that I have never read and probably never will, but I still find it reassuring that they sit on my shelf. One of my first jobs was as a shelver at the Dallas Public Library. It only lasted three days before they found out I wasn’t 16 and could not legally work. That didn’t stop me, though. I learned both the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems of cataloguing books. At the University of Missouri, I worked as one of the night librarians at the medical school, and during the summer I got a job at an upscale book store that catered to the wealthy of Highland Park (plus a smattering of hippies who were interested in transcendentalism and mysticism).

Perhaps it is not surprising then that I became a writer for a living. By my best guess, I have put more than 5 million words on paper during my career. That hasn’t dulled my enthusiasm for books in the slightest, and some of my most beloved publications are now out of print. This week, one such book came into my possession, A Texas Christmas: A Miscellany of Art, Poetry, and Fiction, edited by John Edward Weems.

The writers that fill this anthology were from old Texas. By that I mean they grew up in rural parts of the state on farms and ranches during the first half of the twentieth century. They wrote about their attachment to the land and the animals they raised for food. And they spoke to readers like themselves, people who knew what it meant when friends and family shouted “Christmas gift!” during the holiday season.

I’m such a city slicker—a cosmic cowboy who is all hat and no cattle—that I had never before heard the phrase, and it sent me on a search for its meaning. Turns out that it was a common saying in the South beginning around 1844, but it has largely faded away. The specific use of the term is reserved for Christmas morning. The first person to shout it out is supposed to receive a gift from everyone else—in the broader sense, this was the early Texas version of “Merry Christmas”—but the phrase “Christmas gift!” was mostly intended to express the idea that Christ is the gift of the season.

The book is about Texas, not religion, but this is just one example of what you can learn in a collection of wonderful writing. In that spirit, I couldn’t resist sharing some excerpts in the hope that you’ll be prompted to find a copy for yourself. Weems brought together some of the best writers of his generation, telling them he was putting together a Christmas book and that they could write whatever they wanted. Here’s a taste of what they produced:

A.C. Greene recalled the Christmas in Abilene when his grandmother took a Saturday off from working at the library to take him shopping for presents: “She had to be away from her job, and she got a day’s pay deducted, too. This was during the Great Depression, so giving up day’s pay was a serious and substantial matter.” The story centers on a trolley ride and going shopping at Minter’s Dry Goods on a day that concluded with a snowfall. “Just the lightest kind of downy flake, but a real snow for West Texas at Christmas time. A rare miracle that made the day perfect.”

Leon Hale reflected upon looking out into the darkened Gulf of Mexico at Christmas time and seeing a single bright star: “I think of the square miles of Christmas lights burning now in Houston, spinning the meters of the power company. Their beauty is nothing, compared to this natural star in the east. Well, actually, it’s a planet but never mind that. I prefer to call it a star.” Sometime around 1988, I once shared a meal of alligator tail with Leon at a restaurant in New Orleans. He’s about 96 these days, and I’m happy to say he’s still around to gaze at stars—or planets that he calls stars.

Lastly, here’s Stanley Marcus, who for years ran the Neiman Marcus department store: “I was a firm believer in the concept of multiple gifts round a theme that heightened the adrenalin flow of the recipient as she opened many packages all related to each other.”

But gifts needed to be practical as well as magical, he wrote. He once received a pair of Mongolian geese, and another year a jackass. Both were an impractical source of aggravation. He actually ate the geese.

Now, you’ll recall that I once worked at an upscale bookstore in Dallas. Stanley Marcus’s mother was, like me, a lover of books. One time, she carted off armloads from that bookstore, mostly to give away as gifts. What she didn’t like was paying the bill. Once a month, Stanley Marcus came by to pay his mother’s tab. So it was particularly interesting that in his story, Marcus says the best gift he ever received was a small collector’s book containing a single crayon drawing by a French master.

While you may not be able to afford expensive gifts like Stanley Marcus, please remember his advice as you head out in search of Black Friday deals: “As I approach every holiday season I recall the incident and become renewed in my inspiration to make my gifts carry the qualities of surprise, utility, drama, and fulfillment. When successful, these gifts reward the giver as well as the recipient; no place offers a better starting point to begin the Christmas search than a good bookstore.”

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  • roadgeek

    One of my proudest possessions is a copy of “Hold Autumn in Your Hand”, by George Sessions Perry. No better description of life as a Texas sharecropper before World War II has ever been written.

    • Joyce

      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a brand new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It Sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
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  • WUSRPH

    Black Friday is such a disaster that I limited my Black Friday shopping to Barnes & Noble.

  • WUSRPH

    The Texas Tribune has an interesting story on the impact of Trump, etc. on foreign students at American universities and colleges.

    https://www.texastribune.org/2017/11/24/international-enrollment-dips-ut-dallas-causing-worry-school/

    Foreign student enrollment is down about 6% since Trump……many are concerned about how foreigners will
    be treated.

    The story centers on the impact on UT-Dallas but if this trend continues it may have a particularly bad impact on many of the small private colleges in the US who have been able to stay afloat partly because of their ability to attract foreign students…….They are already set to get hurt by the tax bill going after private college endowments in order to offset some of the deficit increase from that measure….declining enrollments will just make it worse.

    • SpiritofPearl
      • WUSRPH

        We have been thru this debate on BB several times, especially with JJ who believes colleges should be little more than trade schools pouring worker drones off an assembly line……but when like most Trumpets you have no use for creative thinking, distrust the scientific method and believe only what you choose to believe—evidence or not—that is to be expected. The days when universities created new knowledge and understanding in fields from physics to art are probably coming to an end. There is no use in their little confined minds for exploration and experiment….only “useful” things. Our world will probably be a much worse place as a result.

        • BCinBCS

          And, of course, there is the widespread belief by conservatives that colleges and universities are training grounds for liberalism.

          • St. Anger

            Inasmuch as colleges and universities teach critical thought, conservatives are correct.

          • WUSRPH

            The tax bill will help “dumb down” higher education to a level Trump may be able to live with….It not only taxes university endowments (as I reported earlier) but also graduate student scholarships and stipends…..that will help limit the next generation of professors and thinkers…..Maybe they can eventually get the level of education down to the “only practical for a job” level favored by JJ but I hope they can never get it down to the Troll’s level.

          • BCinBCS

            As one who has a degree in a STEM area, it is apparent that limiting masters and doctoral students will restrict the field even more. Who do conservatives think research new disease cures, engineering breakthroughs, solutions to life’s crises and formulation of new discoveries. Do conservatives not have children and grandchildren?

          • WUSRPH

            To understand their mind (sic) set you just have to remember when Rick Perry said that the Texas cancer fund WOULD NOT invest in long-term or basic research because there was no immediate profit from such things….Of course, those are the studies that make all the later profitable applications possible…..but, as we know, Perry apparently did not pay that much attention to his science classes at A&M….at least I like to think his hideous grades were from lack of attention and not lack of brains.

    • Julie

      Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
      On tuesday I got a brand new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $11752 this last four weeks..with-out any doubt it’s the most-comfortable job I have ever done .. It Sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
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  • WUSRPH

    ATTENTION SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS AND INDEPENDENT CONTRACTORS:

    The US House of Representatives has a gift for you. HIGHER TAXES.

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155285715906219&set=a.180394936218.124683.748536218&type=3

    • BCinBCS

      Not just small business owners and independent contractors but anyone who makes $75,000 or less per year will have higher taxes if the Republican tax bill is passed.

  • John Bernard Books

    We all heard the resident pedant singing the praise of Democrat John Sharp, a financial guru…in fact he may be the smartest man in Texas……
    “Thanks to a raise and contract extension awarded to him in 2013, Sumlin is still entitled to the $10 million he would have been paid if he hadn’t been fired by A&M, according to his employment contract.”
    https://www.texastribune.org/2017/11/27/texas-am-kevin-sumlin-entitled-10-million-buyout-after-his-firing/

    not only does Sumlin get a $10,000,000.00 payout, it isn’t reduced if he gets another coaching job!….Sumlin can do what dems do sit at home and collect tax payer funded checks. Why do we let democrats negotiate contracts they are simply terrible at it.

  • John Bernard Books

    Disney now has a video for dems….
    “The Disney XD channel has introduced the company’s first male princess on the same show that previously drew controversy for featuring the first same-sex kisses.”
    https://www.christianpost.com/news/disney-introduces-its-first-boy-princess-on-show-that-also-featured-first-gay-kisses-207783/

    now all you fairies can be a princess….

  • WUSRPH

    JJ and the Troll got their stuff from the Russians….Trump gets his from British neo-Nazis.

  • WUSRPH

    What would be worse:

    Trump is just a liar who cannot resist telling lies

    or

    Trump is truly delusional and believes all the lies he tells are actually true?

    Both suggest some pathological problem…… but, I would prefer that he knows he is lying…

    http://tinyurl.com/y92kl3rl