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In search of the perfect gift

A 12-hour trek to Lenox, Phipps, Perimeter and the Mall of Georgia to find something money can't buy

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I'm shown what resembles a diamond pineapple, just smaller and sparklier. I ask what it costs. No answer. I'm handed off to the next saleswoman. She reaches into a tray of platinum-and-diamond necklaces.

"No matter what case you go to in this store," she says, "I don't think you're gonna go wrong."

She's right and she is wrong. I catch a glimpse of the microscopic-print on the tiny treasure's price tag: $2,300.

Up at Perimeter Mall, I'm introduced to "Cranberry Joy"-scented heatable feet hugs at the Body Shop. Then the "Deep Sleep Dreamy Pillow and Body Mist."

"A lot of people have trouble sleeping so they spray down their whole entire, like, their pillows," the saleswoman says.

"So it's like Febreze?"

"No, because Febreze, like, kills bacterial odors," she says.

At Yankee Candle Co., the lady behind the register says the balsam and cedar candles are perfect. I take a whiff. They remind me of wintergreen Life Savers.

Outside the Limited, I overhear a fellow in a purple Clemson T-shirt gushing about how he intends to buy the woman in his life "an arsenal of shoes and boots."

In the cosmetics palace in Bloomingdale's, they trot out a pink bottle of Versace Bright Crystal.

I have to admit, for a woman, it is damn-near perfect: citrus meets fresh sheets meets snowflakes.

"It's very balanced, you know?" a salesman says with what I think is a heavy eastern-European lilt. "It's called Versace Bright Crystal." Except he says it creee-stull. "It's not overwhelming. It's really delicate. It's very nice. And I have a great special because I have a nice gift set. Only one gift set left. That's why it's the perfect gift, see? The bottle is beautiful, the fragrance is awesome. Ladies love pink, you know, absolutely. And here you get a beautiful kiss-metic bag."

He digs through the bag, pulling out packing paper and a bottle of body lotion.

"And if you buy it today, I'll give you this fabulous Versace duffel bag for free."

It's golden, luminous. Like something Goldmember from the Austin Powers flicks might tote his schwing creams in.

"Fancy," I say.

"I know."

"Can you throw in anything else?"

"For you, I will doooo it. I mean, I will put some extra samples for you."

I pass.

At the Mall of Georgia, a Six Flags of shopping where suburbia can get its Dick's, Old Navy and P.F. Chang's on, I see an old woman in Pottery Barn with a barking miniature dachshund in her arms. Another woman browsing the wares sings along with the in-store soundtrack, "Sleigh Ride," humming, "Giddyup, giddyup, giddyup, let's go."

I ask a Pottery Barn associate to show me the perfect gift.

"No one's ever asked me that," she says. "I would like an entire set of Dasher-Dancer dishes."

I swing by the mall's Santa setup. St. Nick is on break, but three of his helpers, women in black pants, red shirts and ornament-print neckties, are there.

"I'm trying to find the perfect gift."

"Who is the perfect gift for? ... What's the age range? ... Male or female?"

"Y'all know Santa," I say, "you're supposed to already know."

As for me, I already do.

I left it back by the Santa throne at Lenox.

"To Santa," it reads in school-girl scrawl, "From Caroline."

Little Caroline, whoever she is, has written it on notebook paper, in pen, a four-page letter folded into a flat square, grade-school gift wrap at its finest.

In the end, her gift is presented to you, her unintended readers. But first and foremost her offering is to Father Christmas himself.

On one page, she has sketched a piano, some drums, a guitar: "Do you like music? I hope you do."

She has drawn a box adorned with a bow: "I hope you like presents."

But her first five sentences say the most.

Forty-six words.

They capture the innocence, the unknown, of childhood. Of growing up. Of sometimes-harsh reality.

They are a message in a bottle that washed up on Santa's stoop.

They are something to consider, to swish into your bath balm, to lend pause to the holiday din. A perfect gift when the prospects aren't so great that one will be forthcoming in return.

Nothing more than an anonymous girl's hope.

"Dear Santa," Caroline begins, "You will get what I want right? Well I hope you do because you are so nice. Santa are you real? Because some people in my class do not think your real. But of course I think your real because my mom is broke."

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