A column I wrote in 2011 told about my grandmother, Emma Stryker, getting a small autograph book as her only present the Christmas of 1880 when she was 11 years old. In those days, an orange, some hard candy and maybe a homemade doll were what a young farm girl could expect under the tree or in her stocking.
This got me to thinking about other people’s gifts when they were young that were really something special – maybe cherished for a lifetime.
For example, did you get a homemade quilt from your grandmother, your first bike, a musical instrument you wanted to own, or even a used piano if you had become a serious music student?
So I asked a few people about their most memorable gift. Keeping in mind space limitations, I had to choose two:
Liz Hoppenworth, director of resident services at Oak Crest, came from a family of 12, so getting anything extra special was not likely. But she told me this:
“One year when I was in high school, I longed for a beautiful short winter dress coat that I had seen in the window of Peterson Harned von Mauer in Clinton, Iowa. It fit me perfectly, was stylish and terribly impractical for cold winter walks to school. Every time we shopped there, I would try on that coat, admire myself in the full-length mirror, from every angle, and sigh. I remember my mother saying how impractical it was, how costly it would be and my dad saying it wouldn’t keep my rear-end warm and I would freeze to death. I had to realize that with 12 children, buying impractical clothing was out of the question.
“Well, a few days before Christmas I visited the store again and found that the coat was no longer in the window, and in fact had been sold. I was so disappointed. So imagine my surprise when I opened a big box on Christmas morning to find my beautiful, impractical, expensive coat. I couldn’t believe it. I turned to my parents and asked, ‘Why?’ My mother said, ‘Every now and then a young lady is entitled to something that is terribly extravagant and impractical, simply because she wished for it.’”
My second story comes from Mil Misic, a fellow “writer in residence” at Oak Crest: “My most memorable Christmas may seem mundane in today’s world. I was about 5 or 6 years old when I spotted a toy tea set in a store window while shopping with my mother during the Great Depression. Every time we passed this store in the weeks before Christmas, I dreamed of the tea parties I could have with playmates and their dolls as well as my own.
“My joy knew no bounds when I unwrapped the precious gift at Christmas. I was oblivious to the rest of the family as I set up each place setting and played with it until my mother told me it was time to put it away and say good night.
“I carefully put each piece into the proper slots, put the cover on the box and picked it up with my little hands. Somehow I lost my grip and the box and its contents went flying in all directions. Only one tiny cup and one saucer survived.
“My heart was broken as well as the set, but for several short moments I was the happiest little girl in the world. As in life, most happy times are all too short-lived as it was that night so long ago.”
You might have a memory of your own to share with others this holiday. Was it the Christmas your father or husband came home from being overseas in the military? Did you get that engagement ring wrapped inside a box of candy? Or maybe you were told to go out to the garage and there was the most adorable puppy you’d ever seen.
In any event, have a Merry Christmas. This columnist will return Jan. 5.