Hands like an alligator and lips like sandpaper; eyes squinted upward toward a perfectly clear blue sky; breath scented by those ridiculously good Publix Italian cookies only sold this time of year—it was clearly Christmastime in Saint Augustine. And, being in the spirit, I wasn’t even wearing flip-flops. The task at hand required more focus than chilly toes would allow. It was time for The Great Locally Made Christmas Shopping Expedition.
My wintertime scaly hands were grasping the soft fingers of each of my children as we set off on our expedition that stereotypical bright Florida winter day. After all, I could hardly call the ritual of Christmas shopping a ritual without the children in tow. They make the experience memorable by filling it with emotion. For example:
Fear. Just imagine me standing next to a great deal of expensive glass or crystal objects in an upscale store, hissing to the children under my breath. Don’t touch! I told you to just look, which means with your eyes, not your hands.
Frustration. Imagine that I have been shopping twenty minutes, and the six-year-old already wants to know if we are done yet, and the tot is still looking with her hands.
Love. Like when I see the children hugging, or I spot the enthusiasm that lights up the tot’s eyes upon seeing a blowup snowman. Realizing that the children are capable of helping me carry bags doesn’t hurt matters either.
But Let’s Stay on Topic Here—Back to Shopping Locally
Naturally, if you want to teach your children that Christmas gifts do not need to begin their existence by receiving a sticker marked “Made in China,” you are going to want to steer away from the big box stores. Once that thought settles into your brain, dread follows it. You think: Oh no, this means I will have to wonder around lots of little shops, which means I won’t get done until Christmas Eve, and then I will have to do one of those marathon wrapping jobs where I run out of tape at midnight—shutter.
But wait! Some brilliant person came up with a way for us to avoid that whole nightmare scenario, and it is called The Coconut Barrel. This place is in fact a store with a bunch of miniature stores within it, which sort of reminds me of a dutiful mama wolf spider carrying around all her babies on her back. It is convenient, locally made merchandise from many different artisans, open seven days a week.
And it is eco-friendly. The items for sale have little to no packaging, and upon purchase breakables are wrapped in tissue paper and put in a nice paper bag. None of that not-actually-recyclable plastic that will be hanging around for a few hundred years after we ring in 2020.
Best of all, there weren’t any store owners pacing the floor behind me, thinking something like: That tot looks with her hands, doesn’t she? We shopped in peace, and a pretty lady at the front desk lit up the room with her smile when we arrived at the cash register, the children dragging a half filled shopping basket behind them.
But the Expedition Continued…Locally
We found ourselves at the stronghold of locally made merchandise: downtown. The boy ambled along the road, scrapping the bottoms of his shoes across the old worn bricks. The tot did an elegant sort of stroll that involved hopping like a bunny every four steps or so. I walked like a bloodhound with snout in the air, honing in on which restaurant was producing the smell that would be most worthy of meeting my taste buds, because when on an expedition one tends to get hungry.
I was very closely following the trail of an empanada at The Cuban Cafe & Bakery, when I remembered what a Christmas shopping expedition is all about—shopping for gifts. So the children and I (got an empanada and then) changed course, and found ourselves inside Antoinette’s Bathhouse.
There were several dozen bars of soap inside, and each one beckoned. The children had to smell all of them, and report—somewhat loudly—on their findings. “This one smells like pie!” The boy announced. I think there can be no greater compliment given to a bar of soap than to consider eating it. But I ignored him, because I was a little indisposed.
Rose petals; sea breeze; the smell that I’m pretty sure came from that guy pictured on romance novel covers—they were all there, and I was trying to decide what smell belonged with which person I knew.
The children and I completed our business and exited the store a little intoxicated by all the feelings brought to mind by beautiful smells. That song “Walking On Sunshine”—it’s a feeling that exists on cool afternoons while walking lazy streets in the bright sun of a winter day in St. Augustine.
After a bit more shopping, and a bit of fountain admiring, and a lazy stroll by a very large Christmas tree, the children and I concluded our tip at The Hyppo. One wouldn’t think that popsicles would be the most appropriate things for a winter afternoon, but when you are walking on sunshine, popsicles are wonderful.
There in the quiet seating area with the sun streaming in the window and the soft tinkling of a fountain in a courtyard just outside, while the children peacefully licked their popsicles, it dawned on me. We had really mastered it. This was the way to do Christmas shopping—no lines, no crowds, no rush. Every item purchased was unique, and each gift was christened by the wonderful mood we were in while purchasing it.
Each gift was uniquely Saint Augustine, and therefore, uniquely us. The Great Locally Made Christmas Shopping Expedition had been completed. Mission accomplished, and now for a new one—The Great Present Wrapping Ordeal.
I had just better go and check on my supply of tape.