Beyond the salad shooter
Fellow farmers, of all our many agricultural talents, effective Christmas shopping is not one. Our wives have long known and born the brunt of this disability, and an entire industry of uniquely bizarre appliances (does the Veg-o-matic ring a bell?) has profited from it.
But no longer. Thanks to modern merchandising, the men of agriculture can now upgrade their status from gift-giving agridolts to sensitive rural romantics. Your wife and/or sweetheart could be beaming with delight and come-hither affection this Christmas, with a minimal amount of fuss for you, the busy modern farmer. The resultant status upgrade can last not only for the holidays, but throughout the year, as your spouse, having once experienced a thoughtful and well-chosen gift, will inevitably hope for a repeat performance on a few other occasions, such as Mother's Day, your anniversary, her birthday, Valentine's Day, Arbor Day, Columbus Day, National Dairy Month, etc.
Before we get to the actual step-by-step instructions, however, some intelligence (and I use the word loosely here) work needs to be done. Since we are trying to find gifts that are appropriate and fit the person, we need some hard data on the person involved, i.e. sizes. This can be done by (1) going to the closet or bureau and rooting through her clothing looking at the tags or (2) asking. Both methods are fraught with peril. In the first case, you may run into numbers or words that you will not recognize as a size. An example: Men's underwear is sized by the approximate distance around the waist in inches, such as 36 or 122. Women, on the other hand, have picked an arbitrary numbering system that makes their waist seem numerically small, like 7 or 10. 7 or 10 what is the question. Or they use words like petite or misses or queenly. Imagine if men bought sport coats classified by brute, wiry, or wimpy. Above all, the risk of being caught in the act of research can (the voice of experience speaking) only lead to a scene straight out of a nightmare, as any attempt to explain your actions only increases the fearful suspicions.
Simply asking for sizes is, of course, far too straightforward and logical to be tried first, but when you get around to it, remember this: Ask for ALL of her sizes. Simply saying, "So, honey, me and the guys down to the feed store were just wondering what your sweater size was”, might provoke a surprising reaction. Many women would deduce from this statement that you were either going to buy her a sweater for Christmas or spending entirely too much time at the feed store. No, instead ask her to write on a small card all her sizes. One side benefit of having this information is that you and your buddies can swap cards for fun during boring Farm Bureau meetings - it's really interesting and always good for a laugh. One word of warning: Don't use your business card. You will inevitably hand it out to a machinery salesman somewhere who will then (a) know more about your wife than may be desirable or (b) be afraid to be alone with you.
Armed with these statistics, you are ready to go shopping. The thing to remember is that the object of shopping is the same as harvesting: TO GET DONE. Hitherto, we farmers have always had this as the only goal, but this time we are actually going to try to select appropriate gifts.
Suggestion Number Two: Jewelry. I know, you have thought of this before, but this time we are not going for sheer size or flashiness as the primary criterion. If you can swing it, buy her a string of real pearls. Pearls can be worn with practically anything (or - ahem - nothing) and especially with Suggestion #1. Real pearls are real pearls, regardless of where you buy them - Cartier or Walmart - but more expensive ones may have better stringing, which could avert a catastrophe. The shorter lengths, such as the alarmingly named "choker", work fine, and are actually more useful. If this is too expensive, think about small diamond earrings. Teeny little stones that can fit your budget still allow her to say offhandedly that her husband gave her "Diamonds" for Christmas. [Mucho points] As a final fail-safe gift, try gold chains. Again, like crescent wrenches, you just can't have too many.
Suggestion #3: Perfume. The only problem with buying perfume is where you have to go to purchase it. The truly desirable fragrances are to be had at the perfume counters in large department stores, and can be identified by their suggestive names: "Seduction" or "Unbridled" or "Peach Cobbler" (just kidding - but it works for me!). To make the experience even more frightening for simple country gentlemen, these provocative products are sold, with intense vigor, by The Perfume Ladies. These women are the retail equivalent of Imperial Storm Troopers. They assault you as you enter the store with importunings to try their product. Unlike most women you are around, Perfume Ladies have access to cosmetics at wholesale prices, and take maximum advantage of this privilege. Plus, I have noticed most of them seem to enjoy experimenting with repositioning their eyebrows in various places around their faces. Last Christmas, at a major Chicago department store, I swear I saw a PL with both eyebrows above one eye. At any rate, keep your cool, do not stare, and above all, do not get samples sprayed on you! Wives can smell strange perfume on your clothing at concentrations as low as 1 molecule per cubic mile. Not good. (When I mentioned this in a speech once, a gentleman came up to me afterward, glanced around and said "Diesel fuel - just a few drops.” winked and walked away. Whatever could he mean!) Try to make a choice within three samples, as your olfactory nerve goes numb about that time. Remember, none of them smell bad. Also keep in mind that perfume is priced in the same range as Pursuit™. It starts at outrageous and goes higher. As a rule, get the cologne - at least you feel like you're getting more for your money. Above all, do not use perfume as a stocking stuffer. If there is an $80 bottle of perfume in her stocking, what will she expect to be under the tree?
Suggestion #4: Lingerie. All right, take a deep breath and keep reading. I'm not talking about some flimsy baby doll nightgown or thong teddy - well, not necessarily. I'm referring to elegant and tasteful intimate apparel, chosen with care and dignity. [I'm not going to continue until you stop snickering. That's better.] In case you haven't noticed (or have been living on Pluto), women are now wearing underwear ON THE OUTSIDE! Especially under suit jackets, you now see glimpses of garments that, in an earlier age, the sight of which required you to marry the occupant. This type of fashion is something we as guys definitely should be encouraging - but only in women, of course. These "lacy tee shirts" are called camisoles and can, if carefully selected, convey to your lady love a true idea of how breathtakingly feminine you find her to be. Purchase is not difficult, as lingerie stores are now staffed with helpful and non-judgmental salespersons who can aid you in your selection. Armed with your lady's size (see above), just look for a pleasant color (tractor colors may not be the most appropriate here) and plenty of lace, and 15 minutes later it can be all over, including the gift-wrapping. As an undeserved bonus, you may find yourself on the mailing list for one of the greatest catalogs ever mangled by US Postal Service. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving!
Suggestion #5: Dressing Table. I realize there are farmers reading this article that are too insecure in their masculinity to actually go through with any of the above purchases. For them, I suggest a dressing table, for two reasons. Not only will your wife love it, but also your bathroom sink/medicine cabinet will be unburdened of the massive load of chemical beauty enhancement products and devices necessary for a woman to look even faintly presentable. Dressing tables, or makeup tables, are small desk-like pieces that have a hinged, mirrored lid, and drawers for Beauty Paraphernalia. Transferring the unguents and appliances that are the basis for modern womanly appearance from your bathroom sink means you may be able to shave somewhere within focusing distance of the bathroom mirror when rushing for a social engagement. If you have room (about 2' by 4') somewhere in your bedroom, this can be a truly surprising gift with wonderful benefits, plus the big box will drive her nuts.
I can personally vouch for the efficacy of the above gifts, but the crucial point to remember is, that while a gift can help say something about your feelings for this special person, they can never replace your own efforts to speak the words. The fact that this Christmas you went places and did things you really hate to do sometimes is more important than the gift itself. Consider all the times your wife went places she was uncomfortable being (the parts counter at old-fashioned dealers) and did things she really didn't want to do (bid on a cultivator at an auction) for you. Your very best effort this Christmas may only be a down payment on a larger debt. And maybe you'll find it is the most enjoyable debt you'll ever have to repay.