Great (or not) gifts, BETTER MEMORIES
Readers crank up the time machine with flashbacks of CHRISTMAS MORNINGS PAST
IN last Saturday’s Free Press, Brad Oswald wrote about his best Christmas gift ever and asked readers to submit some memories of their own. We received a sleigh-full of responses, some of which appear below. Many have been edited for length and clarity:
ATTACHED is a picture of my best Christmas present ever. It was a doll that my mother ordered from the Eaton’s catalogue when I was three years old.
On Christmas morning when I opened the box that this doll came in, my mom told me later years that my eyes grew large and round, and all I could say was, “Oh boy, oh boy, OH BOY!”
All subsequent pictures taken of me show me reverently clutching my doll to myself and proudly displaying her to the world. In fact, the attached picture was taken the following summer and shows Dolly in still very good condition.
However, as time went on, she lost her hat, hair, socks and shoes and became quite decrepit, but I continued to clasp her to myself in every photo. Probably her deteriorating condition was due to the fact that she went everywhere with me — even on adventure hunts with my trusty dog Blackie.
— Marliene Lutz THE Christmas of 1942 turned out for me the one that I recall with great pleasure.
My mum, dad and three sisters and me lived in a small house on Beverley Street. The house had two storage areas in the basement. The week before Christmas, I wandered down and looked into a dark area and noted a huge piece of cardboard covering something up.
I still remember trying to lift that cardboard and then I spotted the back wheel of a bike. I made a quick check to see if it had a bar from the front frame to the back seat. It did, so in my mind it had to be a boy’s bike. With no brothers and three sisters, it had to be for me.
I recalled putting back the cardboard carefully and heading upstairs to do my homework.
Christmas morning arrived, and after church we opened some small gifts and my dad brought the bike up to the kitchen and then called me out there, and in loud voice, “This bike is for you!” For as long as they lived, I never did spoil this special occasion.
That bike gave me the opportunity to get a paper route (the Winnipeg Tribune), an afterschool opportunity that carried on for eight years.
Following high school, I was offered a full-time position with the paper as a district manager.
The best prize of all... I met Eunice, my wife of 54 years, at the Tribune.
— Ron O’Donovan THIS may not be my favourite Christmas gift, but it was definitely the best one I received. In 1977 or 1978 I was a college student in Peterborough, Ont. I also worked full time at a local hotel. It was my first Christmas away from family.
For that Christmas, my parents made me a money man. They rolled or folded up dollar bills in various amounts to become the body, head, arms and legs of a money man, all connected by pipe cleaners.
In total it was probably around $40, but it felt like so much more. Forty dollars in the late ’70s went a lot farther than today, so I felt very rich.
— Susan Wellman NO more skating with a piece of wood with blades on each side strapped to my foot! I could now skate with the best of them, my older sister and cousins. I was absolutely thrilled!
As for my worst present ever, man, I wish I had a picture of that thing. I was about 14 years old and my mom bought me a top that was brown/beige (my favourite colours) but there were leopard heads all over that top in various stages of growling with mouths wide open, flashing their teeth. I got money from then on.
— Jan Michnowicz I STOOD at street level holding my mother’s hand; it stood alone on a pedestal in the shop window. Three tiers of pale green, each one gathered into a tiny perfect ruffle, soft green fabric with mossy green sprigs scattered here and there; magically translucent material, a dress for fairies. I loved it immediately with all my heart.
I was a such good little girl back then, emptying the ashtrays into the garbage, although that task made my stomach lurch. Did I not deserve that dress?
One day the fairy dress disappeared from the window. I was heartbroken.
On Christmas morning, I began opening the first gift from Santa, my parents watching closely. It was the dress! Sixty years later I can only imagine my stammerings of inarticulate joy.
I can still see the fairy dress in my mind’s eye and my parents on the sofa, watching their little girl and harbouring the secret of a baby brother on the way.
— Judy Toews
NO contest, best present ever was on Christmas 1968. NASA and the U.S. were still blazing across the heavens in their race to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. Straight out of the Eaton’s Christmas catalogue was the Major Matt Mason Space Station Space Crawler Deluxe Action Set.
It was the “must-have” set for the Christmas of 1968. It contained the Space Station, Space Crawler and a Major Matt Mason figure, accompanied by his helmet, a Space Sled and Jet Propulsion Pack. All components came in a spectacular box that really commanded presence on the toy-store shelf.
— Curtis Nault FOR Christmas in 1948, I was delighted to receive a baby doll snuggled in a bassinet fashioned out of a Concord grape basket and covered in a beautiful, frilly fabric, complete with matching pillowcase and comforter.
To my six-year-old mind, it was the best present I could have hoped for; as was the case for many families of that time, mine was very poor.
Alas, my stint as a mother didn’t last long. Two months later, a house fire wiped out all our possessions, including my beautiful baby doll. Thankfully, our family all survived the fire and life went on, but all these years later, I still remember how special that gift was.
— Kay Harper THE best gift I ever received as a child was a Chatty Cathy doll. You pull the string and it says a phrase. I loved that doll until my sister broke the string one day and she never talked again.
— Paula Ritchie EACH year we shared Christmas wish lists with Santa at the Bay. For three or four years in a row I placed the Barbie Doll Dream House at the top of my list. Alas, the dream house never became a reality.
Sliding into my teens, new music became my passion — the Beatles. I wore out my Mickey Mouse record player listening to them. A new record player topped my list that year, and I threw out enough hints to fill a dump truck.
One day, looking for something in a closet, I accidently came across Santa’s intended gift — a lovely new record player. My campaign lightened up just enough so the parents wouldn’t guess.
On Christmas morning I sauntered downstairs with great anticipation. The record player was by the fireplace. It was marked for my sister. My gift? A red housecoat with a fuzzy white collar.
— Kathleen Kristjansson IN the late 1970s, I was not quite a teen yet, and the most awesome present I received was a Vertibird coast guard helicopter.
This was a large Styrofoam moulded model boat with a wired helicopter attached to it.
Battery-operated controls would allow you to hover the helicopter or fly it forward or backward. A heavy hand might cause it to crash uncontrollably into the side of the boat, a master’s touch would allow you to swing out and hover to delicately pick off the awaiting seaman for rescue in his raft, then gently drop him off to safety on deck.
I was fortunate to find another ship in perfect condition at a used store several years ago, and offered it to my then six-year-old as a treasured toy.
I came home one evening to find my son and a friend giggling with excitement and enjoyment operating this fine toy. I walked downstairs and stared incredibly as I watched one child flying the helicopter around and around, while the other jumped up as it flew under his feet.
Speechless, and with horror in my eyes, I watched a missed jump land squarely on the helicopter, crushing it beyond repair.
Oh well, wonderful memories of my own childhood with a Verti-bird are clear in my mind.
— Steve Judge POST-Second World War times meant most families were short of money, to some degree.
My mother had a very rare disease that left her both short of strength and relying on expensive medicines. But she never let that get in the way of making a home and raising her five children.
The gift standing out like a jewel in my memories of those years however, was a new Brownie uniform. I had been allowed to join Brownies with all my friends but I joined with no uniform. Week after week went by and I still went to Brownies in my school clothes.
You can imagine my total surprise and delight when that year, the enormous bulge in the stocking on Christmas morning turned out to be the longed-for Brownie uniform. Obviously, Mum had worked often into the night on the old Singer treadle sewing machine after we children were all in bed, transforming crisp, brown cotton into a brand-new uniform.
I knew even then how hard my parents worked to make sure that my childhood was all that it could be.
— Margaret Mills TODAY, I am 81 years young. The Christmas I remember was when my grandparents came to our home to spend time with us. I remember the table loaded with food, a bottle of refreshments and my parents and grandparents sitting around the table singing Christmas songs and carols in both Polish and Ukrainian.
I fell asleep with my best-ever present in my arms, a new wooden tricycle with red rubber tires. I was five or six years old at the time.
— Carl Golebioski I WAS about 10 years old and it was Christmas Eve. I begged my parents to let me open one gift before I went to bed, which I hadn’t done before. I was sure the gift I wanted to open was the doll I wanted. It wasn’t. It was a case for holding the silverware that my parents had started me on for my birthday gifts.
Boy, was I disappointed, but I was told that I had to show my aunt how thankful I was the next day when she came for supper, or else. I am thankful for it now, but I sure wasn’t then.
— Camille Bailey MY late grandmother used to get the most unique and nicest gifts for us. One of the best presents she got me was a Dr. Evil action figure. I was very young, around five or six, and space was all the rage then. It was a teal-blue foot-long figure that came with a hippie mask to go over its real head and came with a zapper laser gun. No one in town had one but me.
She also made the best maple-walnut fudge ever that I have yet to taste in the last 50-plus years.
— Gary DeLuca I WOULD have been 16 at the time and living in a small town in northern New Brunswick with my parents. I expected the usual clothes and a few surprises but when I was given the first gift to open from my Winnipeg aunt, I was confused. It was an 8-track of Double Vision by Foreigner. The puzzling thing was that we did not own an 8-track player. Perhaps my aunt was confused.
A little later, Dad left the room and brought back a large gift-wrapped box and placed it in front of me. I was thrilled when I opened it up and there was the final piece to this puzzling Christmas, a Lloyd’s three-in-one stereo system, complete with an 8-track player.
It was obvious that my parents and my aunt were in on this caper and my reaction must have been priceless. I played that 8-track until it was worn out.
Every once in a while I spy an 8-track on a shelf of a thrift store and remember with great joy that Christmas of ’78.
— Mike Maskell I WAS eight years old. It was 1978. Money was always a little tight, as my mom was raising me by herself. But I had asked Santa for a Barbie motorhome. It was yellow plastic and about five feet long. It was all I wanted for Christmas, and I told Santa I didn’t want anything but that.
On Christmas morning I ran downstairs and there it was! All five feet of glorious plastic. I spent the whole day putting all the stickers on it and then proceeded to get my Malibu Barbie and the others ready for a road trip! I even used the dog’s water bowl as a hot tub for the Barbies outside the motorhome.
I hope one day I can give my son the same memory.
— Kerri Neish COULD I make my best and worst present the same? Four years ago this December, at 28 years old, I had been attached to a heart pump for two years, waiting for a heart transplant. This heart pump was incredible, and portable. I carried it in my purse and I liked to say I wasn’t sick, I was just accessorized.
However, I was still dependent on a machine to keep me alive and unable to travel more than 45 minutes outside the city.
I knew the gift of a heart would come at a great cost to another person and their family. I couldn’t separate knowing that a new life for me meant the end of a life for another.
So when my cellphone did ring with that longdistance Ottawa phone number, on Ukrainian Christmas, it was both the best and worst gift I ever received.
Every year at Christmas time, my gratitude and joy for being healthy and alive is always tempered with deep sadness and grief, for what I know what this time must be like for my donor family.
Organ donation really is the ultimate selfless gift. It has not only saved my life but also given me the intimate knowledge that there are people out there who donate their loved ones’ organs to strangers at the worst moment of their lives.
— Kristin Millar THERE were a lot of great presents! But I think the best were my Donny and Marie Barbie dolls! And I still have them.
— Sherri Hollup AS a young adult, I went to a Christmas party where a gift exchange took place and the gift I went home with was a wall thermostat with box. Thankfully the next year I re-gifted it at a bring-your-worst-gift exchange.
— Andrew Stambrook I AM such a lucky guy to still be able to remember my best Christmas and my worst. I was born in ’52. Compared to today, times were tough, but we didn’t realize it.
For Christmas 1957, I wanted a train, just like the ones you saw in the magazines, and my sister and I wanted a toboggan.
On Christmas Eve, we were getting ready to go to bed, when all of a sudden, there was a bang on the roof. My uncle and dad jumped up to go out and they came back with smiles and a toboggan tucked under their arms.
Santa tossed it out of the sleigh on his first pass over the house, was the explanation. To this day, I have never been able to figure out how that bang on the house was made. I can still hear it.
The next morning when we awoke, our stockings hung on the knobs of the buffet stuffed with goodies, and under my stocking was my windup train, an engine, coal car and a caboose on a circle track. I truly was the luckiest boy!
— Doug I RECEIVED the best present of my childhood the year I was 35. Kevin and I were newly in love and, coming up to the holidays, had been trading stories of our childhood Christmases.
Though most of my memories were very happy, I also told him about the years that I desperately wanted a Lite-Brite set, easily the hottest toy on my block. Those small pieces likely posed too much of a choking hazard to my three younger siblings, however, so I never did get one.
On Christmas morning almost 30 years later, buried deep under our tree, I found a box in faded, ’70s-era wrapping paper. One corner of the box was badly dented, and there was a large boot print on the top.
The small card attached read as follows: “My dear Jennifer: found this under the seat of the sleigh. Sorry it’s so late. Love, Santa.”
It was our first Christmas together, and I knew right then that I never wanted to spend another without him. (Oh, and we made the clown, just like on the box.)
— Jennifer Walton ALTHOUGH my parents had good intentions, they gave me an orange sheepskin hat and matching mitts for Christmas.
I was in Grade 6 and a crossing guard. My mom said it was so they could see me in the snow!
I’m not sure which category it fits in. Good present because I could be seen in a snowstorm or bad because I was sooooo embarrassed to wear them.
— Marianne Spitula