Great (or not) gifts, BET­TER MEM­O­RIES

Read­ers crank up the time ma­chine with flash­backs of CHRIST­MAS MORN­INGS PAST

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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