Friday, December 24, 2010

Words and pictures make merry ...

Cari Shelkoff, 23, right, and sister Jules, 20, wrap gifts for last-minute shoppers at Statseboro Mall on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve. The paper was going to press extra early (noon-ish) so employees could spend holiday time with their families. So I'm searching for a photograph to anchor our front page on Christmas Day.

At first, I was loath to enter Statesboro Mall to photograph last minute shoppers. Personally, I think we've published plenty of pics featuring Santa Claus and shoppers this season. However, after fruitlessly cruising in hopes stumbling across something more unique, I yielded to the looming deadline and entered the mall.

I was rewarded with a fortuitous gift of circumstance. I stopped at a gift wrapping booth where three women worked at a feverish pace. I started making pictures, hoping to capture a bit of the frenzy. As I shot, though, I listened.

And I learned that the booth was run by two sisters in their early 20s (with some help from Mom). This was the ninth year in a row that they've served the needs of holiday shoppers.

Without breaking their stride, the stories flew forth. Before I knew it, I had stopped shooting and was writing in my notebook. The seasonal entrepreneurial effort had helped put the two girls through college. It had helped pay for their cars and gas. It had helped fund trips, including a recent one to Israel.

The business was clearly lucrative, but there was more. The girls clearly loved what they were doing.

Sure, they smiled as they took money for their services. Clearly there was commerce involved. But they weren't just wrapping gifts. They were engaging their customers. Swapping stories and experiences. Giving advice. Even giving directions.

When they directed their stories to me, I scribbled and they continued working.

Their favorite regular questions?

"Do you wrap gifts here?" (Yes, they really get that one frequently.)

And "What should I get for my wife?"

Sometimes, they wish some folks would take their advice on that one, too, as they shared a story about a man who came in on a rainy Christmas Eve and was stumped about what to buy for his wife. He ended up buying an umbrella, a rain coat, and rain boots. The sisters held their tongues as they wrapped them for the poor fellow. Not to mention the guy who bought his wife cleaning supplies for Christmas. "She loves to clean," he said. They, again, held their tongues at the time but laughed as they shared the story.

They told me about some of the most unusual/challenging gifts they wrapped, including a bicycle and a basketball goal.

They said they were touched when a woman recovering from a brain tumor brought her gifts in to be wrapped because she couldn't kneel on the floor anymore. They were impressed by her spirit to share despite her difficulties.

They shared their secret to successful gift wrapping: patience and tape. Lots of tape.

It was obvious that their people skills were integral to their success, as well.

The entrepreneurial and holiday spirit do indeed mix well together.

What I ended up with was an okay picture but a great story, so I hustled back to the office, processed my photographs, and wrote a short story in about fifteen minutes. Just in the knick of time before the paper was sent to the press.

I'm not a writer by trade, especially on deadline. But I managed to crank out enough text that the story had to be jumped from the front page onto an inside page. Whew!

The lesson is that words and images always work together to tell the stories of our community.

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. This is mine, to you, today.

Merry Christmas, all!


  1. So is it weird that they're Jewish and don't celebrate Christmas?

  2. Does it really matter what religion they are? It's a great story.

  3. Weird? I suppose it depends on your definition of the "Spirit of Christmas."

  4. It's not weird that Jews would exploit people to make money.

  5. It isn't exploitation, it is the free market working exactly as designed. The girls simply recognized a void in the local market, then used their skills to provide a service the community wanted (because people do pay for it).

    Congrats to them! Great story.


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