Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 4, 2008

Six geese-a-flapping

We've all heard stories - or maybe have some of our own - of trying to find "perfect" Christmas gifts for friends and family. But sometimes they bring unexpected reactions. Husband Art's cousin Steve is a case in point. After having four boys a year and a half apart in age, he was very excited when child number 5 was a girl. By the time her third Christmas arrived, he was gleefully looking for the perfect gifts to give his " little princess" - dolls, pretend make-up kits, hair bows.

Given the close proximity in age of the boys, it was difficult to find unique gifts for each, so he decided to purchase each of them a bubble-producing "lawn mower."

". . . we opened our gifts a few days before Christmas Day that year," Steve said. "That evening, the usual mixture of fun and mayhem ensued as the kids enthusiastically tore open the packages. As it turned out, the boys loved their bubble mowers and were soon scrambling for their coats to head outdoors. I finally convinced them that the snow, cold weather and lack of daylight were going to make 'mowing the lawn' an impossibility. While my wife wasn't too keen on the idea, she finally relented and agreed to allow the kids to try their mowers indoors. It wasn't long before each mower was fueled and bubbles were flying everywhere.

"It was a very cute scene . . . for all of the five seconds it lasted. To my horror, my beautiful two and a half-year-old girl tossed aside her new baby doll like it was something to be abhorred, and was soon engaged in a tug-of-war with one of the boys for his mower. After a few minutes of negotiations, order was finally restored when my oldest boy graciously allowed his little sister the use of his gift."

Later in the evening, as Steve put the kids to bed, he said two thoughts became crystal clear. The first was that Christmas shopping in the future was going to be much more complicated than he had thought. The second was he would be getting a little bit less sleep that night because "Santa" would be out after midnight looking to purchase bubble mower number five.

Another example of the right gift for the wrong person comes from the opposite end of the age spectrum. Art's second cousin Arden's son helped an elderly woman clean out her garage. Among the items to be thrown out was a big rusty electric advertising wall clock with "Bob's Shop" on it. Since Arden's second husband was named Bob, she told her son to put the sign in a black garbage bag, tie a red bow on it and gave it to Bob for Christmas.

"The expression on Bob's face was unforgettable when he opened the bag and saw the clock," Arden said. "That clock had always hung on his Dad's ornamental iron shop until it had been stolen 35 years before and had not been seen since. We took it to Bob's Dad's house and he couldn't believe the story of it resurfacing. Later that night, Bob's brother stopped by, added a power cord, plugged it into an outlet and it ran until it was unplugged at his father's death six years later at age 95."

Sometimes Christmas "gifts" revolve around animals.

When their children were young, Art's cousin Claudia and her husband Karl had a Newfoundland dog named Jemima. One Christmas their tree stood about six and a half or seven feet high and was trimmed with homemade gingerbread boys tied onto the tree with thin red ribbons. Unknown to them, Jemima was waiting for just the right moment . . . and finally it came.

"While we were gone shopping," Claudia said, "Jemima ate every one of the cookies, but left all of the red bows on the tree - even the highest ones! The tree was still standing, too."

Yet another story involving animals came from Arden. Her grandparents were married in 1899, and they moved to the parsonage of a little country church in Wisconsin where grandfather Will was the minister. One day near Christmas he had to go to an all-day meeting, leaving her grandmother alone. Lydia was a "city girl," having grown up in Milwaukee, so she wasn't accustomed to living in a farming area.

"It happened that she had several unannounced visitors during that day," Arden said. "Six different farmers brought them a gift of a live goose. She didn't know what to do with them so as each one arrived, she thanked the kind giver and then shoved the goose into the attic."

When Arden's grandfather arrived home, he had to deal with the six geese who had been given a temporary reprieve.

"He had been raised on a farm and had no qualms about properly dispatching and dressing them out," Arden said.

So, while familiar holiday routines provide comfort and connection to family members and friends, it is usually the unexpected that make memories that stand out over the years.

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