The invasion of the gift shops

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 24, 2004

I am forced to believe that Satan sent this plague up from the bowels of the earth to bedevil us. Why is it that any human being traveling anywhere on the face of the planet is expected to return home with a suitcase full of fragile gifts wrapped in dirty clothes?

The English word &uot;ubiquitous&uot; was coined solely to provide a single word describing their prevalence. Like, look under any piece of wood below the Mason Dixon line and you will find termite eggs, they are ubiquitous. It is impossible in any village, town, or city, even in Suffolk, to walk three blocks without your wife grabbing your wrist and saying, &uot;Lets stop here a minute, I’ve want to pick up something for _______ (Fill in the blank). Their only saving grace is that gift shops sometimes provide an endless supply of useless souvenirs that can prove you were there. (Stroll the west side of V B’s Atlantic Avenue)

There is no home in America that does not have hanging on a wall, or sitting on a shelf, an item carefully chosen by the giver to provide endless joy. It may not go with your d\u00E9cor or favorite color, but there it sits, reminding you every day how thoughtful they were.

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You dare not try the old scheme of &uot;finding and dusting it&uot;, when they are expected to visit. They may just drop by unannounced and challenge your ability to think fast. A dear friend, a missionary in Africa, sent us a weird looking thing to hang over the front door, supposedly to protect us from all evils. I banged my thumb with the hammer driving a nail to hang it. Wonderful idea and thankfully the cat &uot;killed&uot; it. We wouldn’t have minded a visitor pointing and asking what it was, but what if they were to just chuckle or roll their eyes? There is a this thing called &uot;lasting impression.&uot;

One place where I will not stop for food, even when starving, is a Cracker Barrel. There may be thirty empty tables but they maintain a waiting line to keep you milling around in their gift shop. And wonderful items are in abundance like the grandma doll in gingham whose head is a shriveled apple (You need to be reminded of wrinkles). Or a piggy bank costing ten dollars that you must smash to get at your savings unless you want to try your luck at shaking the dumb thing upside down. I couldn’t resist a wing flapping colorful parrot that repeats whatever one says to it. I hear people all the time telling about the country style marvelous food, the quantity, and the fair price. I do have the right to think diners who seek out Cracker Barrel and extol those virtues are from a different planet.

But let’s face it, now and then a man will actually, willingly browse with his wife, or intended, and stroll about the aisles carefully avoiding the intimidating &uot;you break it you own it&uot; signs. I’d much rather have a daylong toothache but to show my great love I will endure and follow her like a puppy, properly commenting when she says, &uot;Isn’t this cute.&uot; At age 80 I have endured zillions of gift shops (Gift shops and antiques are why many ladies travel) but my nature is finding a comfortable bench with a used newspaper left there by some thoughtful gentleman whose wife is also obsessive compulsive.

Purchasing a gift is identical with shopping with her in a mall; I find a seat facing a good direction and enjoy the zoo of humanity. Lately while sitting during mall excursions I’ve been determining the ratio of near obese to near normal bodies and the polls are correct. Another observation game is to time the round trip of mall walkers. You can tell by their shoes that they are, and the determined look on their faces. You wonder how many miles they drove just to escape the weather and avoid loneliness, but I digress.

Here is your assignment for homework. List the gift shops in Suffolk, but only those in the Downtown area. You may decide the limits of Downtown and it doesn’t matter if they are merely a section of a larger store selling other items, or if gifts are the primary business. You can count such places as the restored railroad station and the Visitor Center, and any retail outlet that purveys genuine gifts/souvenirs. I think you will agree, they are, what’s that word again?

Ubiquitous. I figure that if I had never traveled I’d never have had to buy gifts and I’d be able to afford my property taxes.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at