“Pardon me,” said Jim. “We are doing our Christmas shopping. We were wondering if there were any new things we should see.”

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 5, 1933.

“Let’s,” said Jimmie Frise, “do something.”

“We are always doing something,” I snarled, “and getting nowhere.”

“By doing something,” said Jimmie, “I mean something unusual. Something we ought to do. Something that has to be done anyway.”

“Such as paying our bills, you mean?”

“Never!” cried Jimmie. “I mean just the opposite. Let’s buy something. Let us, for instance, do our Christmas shopping.”

“In August?” I cried. “With our collars wilted and our shirts creeping up our backs?”

“Let’s do our Christmas shopping early,” said Jim. “Let’s shop early and avoid the rush.”

“The heat has affected you,” I said.

“Why wait until the last mad rush?” cried Jimmie. “Now is the time to do your Christmas shopping, when the stores are not crowded and the salespeople are at liberty to attend to your wants.”

“You sound like an advertisement.”

“Buy now and put your gifts away until Christmas,” went on Jimmie, who really did look as if the heat had touched him.

“The salespeople would think we were nuts,” I said.

“Not at all,” cried Jim. “It would be a treat for them. Think of all those salespeople, fifteen thousand of them in the big stores alone, all toiling away from morning to night with nothing much to amuse them. Then, along we come, doing our Christmas shopping.”

“You can’t amuse salespeople in the summer,” I submitted.

“Listen,” said Jim, tensely, “I’m tired of doing the same old thing. I’m going out and do my Christmas shopping. Are you coming or aren’t you?”

So we went and did our Christmas shopping.

“Where do we start?” I asked Jim.

“We will walk around the stores,” said Jim, “and get some ideas. Take a general survey first.”

We strolled through the big stores. It was a hot day and everything was moving at a pleasant gait. The customers had faraway expressions on their faces, as if they were thinking of canoes and verandas. We walked through the basements and saw screen doors and frying pans, trunks and overalls. We walked through the main floors and saw carving knives and underthings, as Jimmie calls them, and silver trays.

Upstairs we walked through miles and miles of colored cloth, dresses, coats, scarves, bathing suits, furniture, floor coverings, live pets, plumbing fixtures.

“I haven’t seen anything for Christmas yet,” I said.

“Take your time,” said Jim. “Let’s ask one of the managers for some ideas.”

We came upon a gentleman standing in the middle of the main aisle, hands behind his back.

“Pardon me,” said Jimmie. “We are doing our Christmas shopping early. We were wondering if there were any new things we should see. Any novel Christmas gifts on display.”

The gentleman looked sharply at the nearest window. Took out his watch and looked at the time. Then stared shrewdly at us.

“Christmas goods?” he asked. “Did you say you are doing your Christmas shopping?”

“Yes,” said Jim, eagerly. “We are avoiding the rush.”

“I see,” said the manager, “now there is a nice cool place over here where you can sit down and rest while I get somebody to attend to you.”

He led us, walking slightly sideways so as to watch us, over to a bench and left us.

“He’s gone to get the doctor or the store detectives,” I said to Jimmie. “Let’s get out of this.”

“Nonsense,” said Jim. “He’s gone to get one of those shopper’s advisers they have in all the big stores. A pretty girl to guide us.”

But in the distance we saw the manager talking to a man in a derby hat, so we quietly got up and took the stairs down one floor.

“Well,” I said sarcastically, “how about it? Where do we go from here?”

“Let’s sit down somewhere and write out a Christmas list,” said Jim. “Here’s a bench. Now, first the wife.”

And the two of us wrote down the usual list, wife, children, mother-in-law, Bill, Margaret, Art, the Old Man, and so on.

“We’ll do it together,” said Jim. “I buy my wife’s present and you buy yours, and we will be a big help to each other. We will do it methodically. Now I’ll start. I think I’ll get my wife one of those sets of scissors. You know, a leather thingummy, with about four or five assorted sizes of scissors in it. We never can find the scissors in our house.”

“That’s hardly a personal gift,” I commented. “How about mauve silk underthings?”

“You think up your own gifts,” said Jim. “I know my wife’s tastes.”

We found the scissors department and there was a magnificent display of all kinds of scissors, razors, knives, forks.

“We are doing our Christmas shopping,” smiled Jim at the Old Country gentleman in charge of scissors. “I want a nice set of scissors in a leather case.”

The gentleman looked us over and before getting the scissors he stopped to lift four or five carving knives off the showcase and set them out of reach on the back of the counter.

There were sets of three, made in the fashion of storks flying. There were cold, clever-looking sets of four in various sizes. Jimmie looked them over, but said as they were to be a Christmas gift he would like a little fancier leather case. As we walked along the counter we came to the hunting knives.

“Ah,” cried Jim, “here’s the very thing! A beautiful hunting knife! The very thing. I never go anywhere with my wife in the out-of-doors that she doesn’t borrow my old hunting knife. She ruins the edge. She breaks the point. I’ll get her her very own hunting knife.”

Using the Sign Language

The Old Country gentleman lifted two or three carving forks off the counter and stood well back.

“Jimmie,” I cut in, “a hunting knife is hardly a present for a lady.”

“Well, I could give it to John,” said Jimmie.

John is not yet two.

“Jimmie,” I reproached him.

“That is when he gets older,” said Jimmie.

So we took a fine $3.50 hunting knife in a bright leather scabbard, and Jim struck his wife’s name off the Christmas list.

“Now,” said Jim, “your wife next.”

“Underthings,” I said. “Mauve.”

We proceeded to the underthings department, at the back of which is a special sort of half-secret place where the very finest of underthings are kept by the most discreet and understanding of young ladies. They understand what you want by signs. You hardly have to speak. I have been dealing there for fifteen years and they know me and understand my sign language, so that in twelve of those fifteen years I have never said more than good-day and thank you to them.

“You aren’t going in back there?” exclaimed Jimmie.

“Come on,” I commanded.

We marched right into this soft and quiet sanctum and one of the girls remembered me and came forward making signs.

“Christmas,” I said.

She raised her eyebrows.

“Usual,” I said. “Two sets.”

“Color?” asked the girl.

“Mauve,” I said.

She went away and Jim said:

“Gosh, if it’s easy as this I’m going to do it, too.”

The girl came back with mauve things over her arm.

“Christmas,” I repeated.

The girl raised her eyebrows again.

“November,” she said. “New stock. This pretty light. Summer stock. Get later.”

“Right,” I said.

She went away with the mauve things and came running back.

“But,” cried the girl, “have you seen the silk for men? Just new. It’s quite all right to talk about men’s things, isn’t it? We don’t have to make signs now, do we?”

“I think reticence applies only to the ladies’ things,” I said.

“Then come on down here,” cried the girl. “I’ve got some stuff just in from England. Men’s silk. It will be going downstairs to the men’s shop to-night. But it was in our shipment and I want you to see it.”

Scarlet, green, blue shorts of slithery, slippery silk. Orange, polka dot and purple shirts to disagree with the shorts.

It did not take me two minutes to pick three suits, because like most men doomed to wear drab on the outside I like a little color on the sly.

“Will I send it?” she asked.

“Nobody home,” I said. “Our wives are away, so we will have to carry our parcels.”

So I struck my wife’s name off my list.

The next thing we did was the toy department for the children. Jim got his four girls some of the finest fishing tackle any girl ever received, and he got Baby John a dandy little fly rod. I got my boys a silk tent between them, a thing we have always needed. My daughter I got one of those bright umbrellas for the garden, and while she is only two the salesman said the color was a fast dye and would keep.

My mother-in-law I bought a huge set of copper ash trays, each one about as big as a dinner plate, because she is always complaining that I overflow the ash trays at home. Jim tried to get his Aunt Agnes an umbrella, but he couldn’t choose one from so many, so he got her instead one of those sit-down canes for the races.

“I can borrow it from her,” said Jim, “when I go to Thorncliffe.”

By this time our load of parcels was growing and the heat was not diminishing.

“Hadn’t we better leave some of the things till later?” I asked.

“Let’s get it over,” said Jim. “You can never tell when the rush will start.”

So Jimmie bought his cousin Harry a pair of cheap field glasses in case Harry ever got interested in racing, and I got my fishing partner, Bill, a beautiful red cedar canoe paddle.

“Has Bill a canoe?” asked Jim.

“No, but I’ll keep this in my canoe for the times Bill visits us,” I explained.

“There’s one thing about summer shopping for Christmas,” said Jim. “You can think of far more sensible presents for everybody. Near Christmas, you sort of get carried away by the Christmas spirit and you buy the silliest things.”

I got my brother Joe a book on wild birds and their music just to inspire his interest in this beautiful subject, and anyway I would have all summer, autumn and early winter to read it thoroughly before having to give it up. My brother Art I got a new novel I had read some thrilling reviews of in the paper. Jim doesn’t care for reading much. It tires the back of his neck. So he got two sets of “Famous Race Horses of the Past,” twelve handsome colored lithographs of world-famed thoroughbreds.

“I can give half of one set to Jake,” explained Jim, “and the other half of the other set to George. Six is a nice present. Both will be different. Then I’ll have the complete set for myself. You would never pause to figure things out like that in December.”

We were by this time pretty well loaded and our lists were practically exhausted. Jim still had his Cousin Pansy and an old uncle on his list, but try as we would we could think of no suitable gift for either of them. I had one or two on mine, but they were the sort of people you could leave to the last minute and then give them a box of cigars when they called on you Christmas afternoon.

Everybody was very helpful. It was extremely hot and we dropped things quite a bit as the afternoon wore on, but, as Jim said, how much nicer to get this over with now, even with the heat, than suffer all that struggling and bumping and hey-ing of sales girls in December.

With our families away, there was none of that hiding and concealing. For example, we set up the colored umbrella in my garden and then we tried out the silk tent. As the children wouldn’t be home till September we decided to leave them up, as with the tent you could get quite a kick by pretending you were camping.

Especially as Jimmie brought over his wife’s hunting knife and his daughter’s fishing tackle to try out, with Baby John’s rod.

“I’ll just keep them in my own tackle box,” said Jim, “so I’ll know where they are.”

With the paddle and the field glasses and the sit-down cane and so forth draped around the tent and us sitting under the striped umbrella, I reading and Jim gazing lingeringly at the lithographs of the horses, you could easily see how much better a thing it is to do your Christmas shopping in August.

Editor’s Notes: A store detective, was much more common in the past. They would walk around the store (usually big department stores) on the lookout for shoplifters.

Thorncliffe Park Raceway existed from 1917-1953. It used to exist in the location of the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood in Toronto today.