When it came to gifting, she was just as thrifty. Every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving, her sons would be directed to put up a ladder to gain access to the “attic” crawl space. Down would come the cartons of ornaments, and more importantly, the boxes of boxes. Of course, Dot saved wrapping paper and ribbon and tissue year-round, but the boxes were her triumph. A gift box at Dot’s house had the half-life of plutonium, which meant that every year you could count on taking a sentimental stroll down retail lane.
After my husband and I moved to Savannah, and then Atlanta, boxes from the old Levy’s Department Store on Broughton Street in downtown Savannah, and then the iconic Rich’s in downtown Atlanta took their place in Dot’s box of boxes. Every Christmas morning, after the presents were opened, the gift boxes were collected, collapsed and carefully stored in a cardboard carton that went back up to the attic. A heart attack felled Dot in the summer of 1999. It took months to sort through the house she’d lived in for more than thirty years. She’d packed every closet, cabinet and cupboard with the fruits of decades of yard-saling. At the estate sale, we resorted to throwing in a free piece of Tupperware with every item we sold. Ten years later we all still have pieces of Dot’s Tupperware. And at Christmas-time, at our house, somehow, when the cartons of ornaments and decorations come up from the basement, so does the box of gift boxes. My practical husband thinks it’s ridiculous to save the boxes. Why not pop a gift into one of those handy gift bags, or just wrap it in tissue and slap a bow on it? But I’m sentimental. The downtown Maas Bros., where I attended charm school as a teenager and worked as a sales clerk, buying my wedding dress on layaway with my employee discount, met the fate of so many other “big stores” across the country in the ’70s. First it was closed, then it’s identity was subsumed by another retail giant, and then, the final insult, it was bulldozed. Gone too are Kaufmann’s, where Dot shopped on her infrequent trips home to Pittsburgh. It’s called Macy’s now. The old Levy’s store in downtown Savannah is a college library now, and that dear old downtown Rich’s, where I spent many a lunch hour when I worked at the newspaper, was closed and eventually torn down too.