Since last February I have noticed an amazing number of things that would make splendid Christmas presents, things not very costly yet extremely useful and either beautiful or nonugly (which nowadays amounts to beauty).

Needless to say I cannot think what any of these things were, let alone where to buy them. This Guide to Christmas Shopping, therefore, deals with the common crisis of Christmas sneaking up, and one's inability to remember what it was that would be just right for old Ted. To save the day, adapt the following letters. Now. Dear Cousin Will,

Merry Christmas, old man, and the best of New Years. Emma and I are doing something different this year, and we hope you will enjoy knowing we have made a contribution to a street bum on Fourth Street in your honor. The guy really needs it; you would not believe what a gallon of sherry costs up here nowadays. Best to you, Letty and the kids,

Dan Dear Uncle Tom,

Delighted to hear you have finally found an apartment with ceilings high enough to hold your old bed, though I know you will miss the old house. Betty and I have adopted 26 cats at a shelter -- it's a project to pay the feed bills and so on until somebody shows up to take them as pets. Any day now you will be getting a crate of cats, to make your selection. Yes, you can have more than one! I know the airport is a little way out from Hartford, but they'll phone you when the kitties land. All the best and merry-merry from us. Oh. Use the same crate to ship back the ones you don't need.

Charles Dear Rowland,

Your Christmas gift from Ruth and me will be a bit late, but this note will reach you by Christmas Day. I hope! It's a portable greenhouse from Taiwan. Ruth and I fell in love with the one we bought ourselves last year. It's portable the way a mobile home is mobile, ha, ha. You just add it on to the garage. One thing we did notice is the panes are not quite standard American sizes. We found the best thing was to borrow a truck and haul the frame out to one of those glass places and just let them cut it to fit, especially since the panes vary a little in dimension (it is handmade). Hope it will brighten your life in the nursing home and much love from us,

Dunstable Bob, old Boy,

Long time, long time, but Irma and I think of you all so often. What lousy luck with that magnificent Belgian shotgun, but thank God they saved the foot, and the five weeks at the hospital did you a world of good, Libby reports. Since you missed pretty much the whole season, we hope the moose antlers will cheer you up. They were Grandfather's from the days he and Uncle Seth used to go to Canada. He felt, and I think he was correct, there is not a finer or larger set of antlers in captivity. The regular packers down here wouldn't touch the job, but a really great taxidermist has picked them up and you should get them about Dec. 29, he says. They have to be shipped some special way and get off the train at Urbana for air freight from there. Fortunately the taxidermist here has a buddy who will meet the moose at Ur. and recrate it for air shipment on to you at Encino. The only bad part is they are not sure just what is involved in the crating and reshipping and the only way to do it is C.O.D., so it may be 10 bucks or so. But the merriest Christmas, and hope the antlers will make up for the one that got away.

Tim Dear Francis,

We are all excited as pups to hear you and Gert have bought that farm out from Murfreesboro, and our Christmas gift this year is really a house-warmer! You remember when we were kids what good times we had at Shaky Rock picking blackberries and riding Pearl and Old Paint. Those were the days, and you know how we used to bitch about all the old crocks, aunts and uncles. And now we're both in our forties and they don't seem old at all, do they? Well, we have learned that great-grandfather Tench's old mounting block is still there and the new owners have let me have it. In case you have forgotten, it's solid granite and has his name carved on it on the third step, and as you are his namesake you should have it for the new farm. Edith and I have shipped it via the Cumberland River to Prince Williamsport, which appears on the map to be only about 30 miles from your new place. Round up some of your buddies and a few mules and haul it home! Best, as ever,

Winston

Now if you get these letters off today, chances are good you'll get a phone call within three or four days and won't have to do anything at all this Christmas. And if the worse comes to worst, and you don't get urgent messages to hold everything ("Unfortunately, Tom's firm requires him to straighten out the deal in Turin, and I will be in the hospital over the holidays, what a bore, but perhaps you could hold off till next Christmas? Love, Essie), you can always say it must have got lost in the mail. Then next year get going in time to send everybody subscriptions to the American Pigeon Journal, which you can be pretty sure they don't have, and which is one hell of a fine buy and is marvelous to read every month in the crowded city.