As we sat around the table this year at Christmas, I asked, “What was your very best Christmas gift ever?”
Not too surprisingly, three of the guys mentioned bicycles.
My brother-in-love talked about the Stingray he received when he was ten as giving him freedom. He could ride with his friends to school and to the park. It was the ‘in’ bike for its time, and he rode it for years, doing wheelies and flying down the streets of our neighborhood.
My husband said the year he got his J.C. Higgins, the Rolls Royce of bicycles, was most memorable. He and his little brother had gotten up in the wee hours of the morning to play with all the little toys under the tree. They completely missed the big bicycle and tricycle tucked behind it.
This was the best of the best, complete with saddlebags, an electric horn and light, and lots of chrome and trim. Unfortunately, it was also very heavy and had only one speed. In addition, it was really too tall for him, so he had to stand on the curb in order to mount it and leap off in order to stop without the bike falling over on him. Not long afterward, he removed the saddlebags, light, horn, and everything else he could, but he never was able to beat his friend who rode a three-speed.
My brother’s bicycle story was of the year when he was four, and Dad had repainted and refurbished our cousin’s old bicycle for him. After a few weeks, my brother told Dad he didn’t need the training wheels. After watching the kid ride his friend’s bicycle up and down the block, Dad said he’d remove the training wheels when he got home from work the next day. Unfortunately, Dad never returned from work the next day or any other day. So this is a bittersweet memory for my brother.
A great nephew said he remembered being given his older brother’s old skateboard. This gift began an ongoing love affair. After dinner this year, he tackled the hill up the street from our house. It has become mythical in our family since our nephew and his cousin both crashed on the hill. Fortunately, neither sustained serious injuries. We captured the incidents on videotape, and they have been watched by the family until the crashes have become legendary. Nevertheless, no problems occurred this year, so the enjoyment of the new skateboard remained complete.
My best gift was the mama doll I received when I was five. Mary Ann became my best friend throughout my childhood. A couple of years later, she looked pretty sad, but I never stopped loving her. My little brother had bitten off the ends of a couple of her fingers and poked her eyes into her head. Her wig was missing, and her cheeks were worn from being kissed so often. For my sixth birthday, Dad refurbished her, including a new wig and all new clothes.
When my daughter was small, she was allowed to play carefully with Mary Ann only when she was ill. For my Christmas gift when my daughter was in her teens, she located a fancy dress at the thrift shop for my doll, since her old clothing was pretty-well worn out. My beloved doll still wears that dress, and once in a great while a visiting child is allowed to hold and hug her.
My daughter’s best gift was her own TV and Princes phone. She received both when she was about ten. These two items made her feel very independent and grown-up.
Our great-niece told us about the ring which had belonged to her great-grandmother, and which she had always loved. The Christmas after her great-grandmother’s death, she was given that special ring. She wears it today, and it keeps the memory of her beloved relative alive for her.
A friend who joined us for dinner said having her husband released from the hospital for the day in 1969 was the very best gift she would ever receive. His prognosis, following being shot in the head in Vietnam, remained highly questionable, but at least he was allowed to be with his family this once.
Her husband shared his wife’s sentiment. Today, 40+ years later, he is still with us and has accomplished far more than the specialists ever dreamed he would. But that Christmas of 1969 marked the beginning of the promise of a new life for both our friends.
My sister-in love’s answer moved me the most. Her best gift ever was a simple set of jacks and a ball. She told us about spending four years with her sister in a convent, while her brothers lived with the fathers in a different facility. Between several masses each day, meals, school, and chores, she had very little free time. She spent some in the library, but she and her sister found the center of an old golf ball and several smooth stones with which they played jacks. For Christmas, the nuns gave her a real set with a real ball.
Her eyes still light up with joy when she talks about this gift and when she says, “And I was really good!”
I’m certain all of us have received other wonderful gifts over the years, but what was telling for me was the one constant in all the stories we shared. The joy of these gifts lasted long beyond Christmas morning. The boys mentioned the freedom and speed of their gifts, which transported them to other places. Our friends mark the 1969 Christmas homecoming as the beginning of their new life together and his slow recovery. The ring continues to be a reminder of a beloved great-grandmother, while our daughter’s TV and phone made her feel grown-up and more independent.
My Mary Ann still makes me smile. I confess, I usually kiss her cheek before I put her safely away.
What was your favorite Christmas gift ever? When did you receive it? Why was it special?