If you were one of the literally dozens of people who turned out to brave this year's annual Christmas Parade downtown a couple of weeks ago, you were treated to what has to have been one of the wettest and fastest-moving parades in Knoxville history.
I don't know if the police escort sets the pace for these events, but as the motorcycles roared down Gay Street amid a light rain, heralding the start of this year's celebration, it was evident that things were moving a little quicker than usual. By the time Santa's float appeared, both the rain and the pace had picked up considerably. The crowd, which often stakes out territory well in advance of the ceremony, was more like a flash mob this year, suddenly popping out of nowhere into the chilling rain, and then disappearing just as promptly. But the brief congregation brought to mind the gift that many Knoxvillians are in dire need of receiving this Christmas: a new umbrella.
Hats, scarves, and gloves are all fine presents. They are all easy to lose. So giving them as gifts has a practical value. Looking across the soggy throng that night, though, people seemed adequately equipped where those were concerned. But I couldn't help but noticing the large number of sad, broken, or flat-out deficient umbrellas. And umbrellas make the perfect gift.
This may seem out of season. Winter officially arrives this Saturday. And people here take winter weather seriously. Forecasters need only whisper the word "snow," and stores sell out of the trifecta staples of milk, bread, and eggs. (East Tennesseans are seemingly obsessed with making French toast under harsh conditions.) But despite predictions for a dryer than usual winter from the National Weather Service, I'm basing my expectations on experience. While I hope we'll see snow in the coming months, I'm more confident of rain. And even if I'm wrong, spring rains are just around the corner. Well, just around the corner, down the block, and across the street ordering another cup of coffee, anyway. But the gift of an umbrella will spark warm fondness toward the gifter, long after the wreath comes down and the ornaments are packed away.
It's not that I think we don't own enough umbrellas. Most people I know who have them have more than one. But we hold on to them long past their prime. Somewhere in my car, I have one with a wooden handle that was once mistaken for a chew toy by my dog, rest his soul. But it still works. Sort of. Granted, in anything other than a light mist, it leaks. I also own two more which are identical in appearance. I picked up the second with the idea of replacing the older one, the catch for which is broken and will not stay closed unless strapped shut. As a result of the twin pair, it's sort of like a game of Russian roulette when I grab one of them. I never know how if it's the one that explodes. If anything, we hang on to them well past their prime. Maybe that's why I see so many ratty ones. I guess it's better to huddle under a flapping semi-circle of fabric than nothing at all.
Umbrellas have a hard life. They get popped open, catch the top of the car doors, get banged into entryways, tangled up with one another, shaken violently and yanked shut. Given how they're handled, it isn't surprising that they don't tend to be the sort of thing that gets passed from one generation to the next. I have never seen an umbrella repair shop, though I have tried my hand at fixing a few. There appear to be few user-serviceable parts. Once they start to deteriorate, there's little chance of a recovery. And just like hats, scarves, and gloves, they're pretty easy to lose, too. Which is why I prefer black ones. If you get caught without one, you can inquire at just about any restaurant downtown if you left "your" black umbrella there, and odds are you'll be in luck at the lost and found.
So there you have it. A gift-buying guide to suit all your needs. Who wouldn't be excited to find an umbrella under the tree Christmas morning? They're practical, economical, and kids just love them. Even if your hard-to-buy-for friend or relative already seems to have plenty, just watch their eyes light up when they unwrap your thoughtful gift. There's nothing quite like that new umbrella smell to show how much you care. So if you give only one gift this year, let it be the gift of a new umbrella. Did I mention that they're perfect for the parade-goer?
Oh, and if you see Santa, you can mention that I'm partial to black.