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Hunker Down with Kes

How To Smell Like A KGB Agent

By Kesley Colbert
Posted 12/14/21

I don’t want to mention any names here. So as not to “throw off” on any one person, place, time or thing. This is just another generic Christmas story…that might or might not have taken place. And it might or might not have adjusted my whole thinking about gift getting and giving…

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Hunker Down with Kes

How To Smell Like A KGB Agent

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I don’t want to mention any names here. So as not to “throw off” on any one person, place, time or thing. This is just another generic Christmas story…that might or might not have taken place. And it might or might not have adjusted my whole thinking about gift getting and giving…

Billie Jean looked me right in the eye—we were standing on her front porch on East Paris Street in downtown Huntingdon, Tennessee, just after returning from the Court Theatre where we had seen Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra”—and said, “I want you to buy me a Scarab Bracelet for Christmas.”

Many thoughts raced through my mind as I stood there, foremost of which was, what is a Scarab Bracelet? And did Queen Cleopatra have one on in this movie? Where do you get such a thing? And was it too far down in December to order one from the Sears and Roebuck Catalogue?

This was 1963. We were both sixteen. And I don’t remember if we were going steady. But we had been “seeing” each other for a few months. And for sure this was the first December that I had a real girlfriend.

My Christmas gift giving up to this time had been limited to a pocket knife of some kind for David Mark and the latest, and hottest, Doo-Wop record for Leon. I’d never thought about a gift for a perfect stranger…now, Billie Jean and I were not exactly unacquainted, but you know what I mean…

I still remember the premonition “that my Christmas shopping might have gotten a lot more complicated” overwhelming me as I backed off her porch and headed to the car. Boy howdy!

Mother pointed me towards Pate’s Jewelry. It was right uptown beside Wrinkle’s Hardware but I’d never been inside. Mrs. Pate was very polite. And she knew what I was talking about. She just didn’t have a Scarab Bracelet in stock and she couldn’t get one before Christmas.

I wondered if Billie Jean would be just as satisfied with a Doo-Wop record.

I ended up in Paris at Moon’s Jewelry. I drove 20 miles to look for a Christmas gift I’d never heard of. Or seen! Or cared anything about! This was big time Christmas shopping for me.

The first thing I saw was the price tag. $26, plus tax! You’ve got to be kidding me! Did some little Scarabs give their lives for this thing? It looked like different colored lady bugs trapped in a 14 karat gold chain. When the clerk dropped the curved stones with small ridges cut across the top in my hand, it felt like I was holding a bale of miniature turtle shells.

Twenty-six bucks was more than I had spent on ten years’ worth of knives and Doo-Wop songs! I didn’t have enough cash for a down payment or enough time for the installment plan.

I can guarantee you I didn’t leave there singing, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly…”

Dad came through with the money. Which was, and is to this day, a big deal to me. As a matter of fact, I have remembered his help, when money was kinda scarce around our house, way longer than I remembered anything else about that Christmas.

I proudly gave Billie Jean her gift a week and a half later as we sat in the swing on that same front porch. She looked very pleased, but not necessarily surprised. She gave me a bottle of Russian Leather cologne. I smelled like some KGB agent after an all-night stakeout in an underground sweat lodge in Vladivostok.

The irony did not escape me. I bought her a gift that SHE liked. And she bought me a gift that SHE liked. It was enough to make you want to choke Rudolph.

You live and learn. And Billie Jean, bless her sweet heart, truly taught me a valuable yuletide lesson. The next year I was dating the banker’s daughter from Gleason. We had spent the summer and fall almost inseparable—until the second week of December. I broke up with her.

The only Christmas gifts I had to worry about that year were Case knives and Ben E. King records.

As a matter of curiosity I checked this morning on vintage Scarab Bracelet sales on eBay. There is one from the early 60’s that is the spitting image of the bracelet I bought over at Moon’s Jewelry that long ago December. It had the same seven turtle shaped colors and a 14 karat gold chain. They were asking $675 for it!

In retrospect, I should have bought a half dozen of those things and put them in a safe place…and given Billie Jean a bottle of Russian Leather…

Respectfully,
Kes

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