Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 23, 2004
The gifts that keep on giving
While decorating our Christmas tree last week, I came across a small box with Art's Mom's neat penciled handwriting on the lid. Inside was a set of small frosted balls, and the writing explained the set was a gift from Art to his Mom when he was 9. Donna is giving away many of the things she's acquired in her 94 years and she gave the box to us a few years ago.
Discovering it led us to a discussion of the various gifts we've given and received for Christmas over the years.
Art remembers giving his Dad a fountain pen and soap cakes for his shaving mug. He got his Mom a nut grinder that she still uses to make peppernuts. He gave brother Tommy one of those plastic coin purses you squeeze on the ends to get the coins in and out.
I remember buying Mom an aluminum salt and pepper shaker set shaped like milk cans, with matching sugar container and creamer. For Dad, I bought a wooden dresser tray to hold his billfold, coins and other paraphernalia. I spent a lot of time looking at catalogues before I finally settled on my big purchases. I was so proud that I actually bought them myself.
When I asked Mom about her childhood Christmas gifts, right away she told about her Uncle John giving her and her sister Edith walnuts with dimes hidden inside.
Uncle Stan mentioned how he, his brother Bob and Dad each got a dollar from Erna Schneider, a close friend of their mother's.
"We really looked forward to getting that dollar," he said. "You would have thought it was a hundred bucks."
My late mother-in-law Rita said the Christmas she remembered the most was when her sister Ila gave her a new coat.
"It was wine and had a plaid lining. It was the first new garment I ever had that I can remember that wasn't made by my mother," she said.
My father-in-law Ken grew up during the Depression as Rita had.
"If we had one toy each, we were lucky, but the folks always saw to it we had candy," he said.
When I asked Donna what gifts she got, she said, "You didn't ask for the sun, the moon and half of creation. We got little 10-cent gifts and maybe one big gift. I remember my Flora Dora doll and my little table set. I'd cut out the Christmas ads and color them. I didn't have coloring books."
She got a new dress every year and went to church Christmas programs, where the kids received bags with ribbon candy, oranges, pieces of angel food cake, peanuts and popcorn balls.
But she remembered giving gifts even more than receiving them.
"I'd take out a dime each week and go up and down the aisles picking out things for Mama and Dad and my brothers and sisters. As I bought them, I'd wrap them. Then for entertainment, I'd unwrap them and wrap them up again. I must have been an imbecile in a way - being so easily entertained."
Our girls today talk the most about some of the gag gifts we've given them.
When Mariya was in a Dr. Pepper phase, we wrapped a 12-pack for her. One year Katie mentioned how much she liked peas, so we bought her a shoe box full of canned sweet peas. I'm sure the girls remember a few of the toys they received, too, but they always talk about the Dr. Pepper and peas.
What struck me about the responses I received when I asked people about their childhood Christmas gifts was how one or two always came to mind immediately, while others were now almost forgotten. For each of us, it seems the giving and receiving of one or two particular gifts become treasured memories long after the material aspect is lost, broken or consumed. And predicting which gifts will leave such a lasting impression is nearly impossible. But they truly do become the gifts that keep on giving.
Katie, the “Sweet Pea,” holding her
cans of sweet peas, Christmas 2001.