Christmas memories -- Friends recall favorite gifts of Yuletides past

Thursday, December 18, 2014
Sue Doak of McCook, Nebraska, holds the Mademoiselle doll she received as a Christmas gift when she was seven years old. Sue's mother had sewn clothes for the doll that matched Sue's. (Connie Jo Discoe/McCook Gazette)

McCOOK, Neb. -- For Lorri at the Gazette, it's a bike with a banana seat, an electric typewriter, a dog named "Poochie." And, of course, the birth of her oldest daughter, Naomi, her Christmas Eve baby.

For Nita, it was a portable dishwasher. "I loved it, and the kids loved playing in the box!" For Debbie, it was a pair of petite diamond earrings from her mother.

For Bruce, it's the electric train set that he got when he was eight years old. His grandson, Layton, sets it up for Christmas now.

For me, it's a Topo Gigio stuffed doll. (Oh, come on. You remember Topo Gigio. The little Italian mouse puppet on the Ed Sullivan Show? ... He ended each visit with Ed by saying, in his adorable little Italian mouse accent, "Oh, kees me, Eddie.")

Oh, and my first camera; I was 11 or 12. And, of course, Shannon's and Nolan's first Christmases. Each one was just six months old, and not at all thrilled with Santa Claus!

What is your most memorable Christmas gift? A gift as a child, or as an adult ...

A special Christmas memory? Something that happened that even now, later, it softens your voice and brings tears to your eyes ...

I still have my Topo Gigio doll, with his foot patched after my "Molly Brown" dog chewed it off. And Sue Doak, who provides a genealogy column for the Gazette, still has her most memorable Christmas gift.

Sue admits that she peeked at the gifs her mother had hidden in a tiny attic room. "It was a Mademoiselle doll," Sue said. "And Mom had made outfits for the doll that matched my clothing."

"I was about seven years old, and a terrible snoop," Sue says, with a smile and a chuckle.

McCook business owner John Havens was also about seven when he got his most memorable gift. "It was a Schwinn bicycle ... red and silver," Havens said, without so much as a moment to ponder. "When I got finished with it, it sat around the house for years and years. When we sold the house, I gave the bike away ... probably just four years ago."

Carol Brodersen, the secretary at McCook Senior High, remembers well the clock-radio she received when she was 10 years old. And, oh, that aluminum Christmas tree with the color wheel -- it's a favorite memory as well. "And I've gotten nice jewelry from my husband, too," she said.

McCook Public Library director Jody Crocker's most memorable Christmas gift is more recent. Being a big Mickey Mouse fan, Jody says her favorite gift would be "a Mickey Mouse carousel from my husband, Richie." Jody continues, "Mickey goes around and around and the horses go up and down. And of course it has the 'Fab Five' on it -- Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy."

McCook Chamber of Commerce director Tacie Fawver's favorite Christmas gift also revolves around Walt Disney characters. "In 2005, my mother treated my family to a trip to Disney World in Florida. That's the most memorable, so far," Tacie said.

St. Patrick's elementary school principal Becky Redl still has her most memorable gift. "I was in my 20's when my grandmother gave me a pocket watch that was her grandmother's. It's been passed down by all the 'Rebeccas' in the family," Becky said. Becky's daughter's middle name is Rebecca, so the pocket watch will some day be passed to her, Becky said.

City council member Janet Hepp laughs, now, over her most memorable Christmas. "My first husband and I were young and broke and had a houseful of little kids, and we cut a cedar tree out of a pasture. Yes, we stole a Christmas tree."

Janet said she and Junior thought the tree would fit nicely in the corner of their living room, "but it took up at least a third of that room," she laughed. "Measure your room twice, and 'steal' the right size tree," she recommends, tongue-in-cheek.

Janet said she sprayed the tree with "flocking" she bought at the Ben Franklin store downtown. "It was the most gorgeous tree I've ever had," she said. The flocking looked just like snow, she said, and it also helped cover up the strong -- almost overpowering -- smell of the cedar tree as it warmed up inside.

McCook Fire Chief Marc Harpham's favorite Christmas memory also revolves around a young marriage. "Patty and I were married in December 1986. Every year that we get the tree out, we hang it with the ornaments from our first tree in 1986," Marc said. "I love looking forward to getting those ornaments out each year."

Barb Ostrum, of the McCook office of Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, also remembers well her early years of marriage. "We lived in the upper peninsula of Michigan with more than 200 inches of snow on the ground, and our oldest daughter was born on Dec. 21," Barb said. "We brought Andrea home on Christmas Eve and put her under our Christmas tree!" Several years later, Andrea got a Christmas present in the form of a new baby sister, Sarah, on Dec. 18.

McCook Elementary Principal Tim Garcia's favorite Christmas memories also center on family. "I'm going to get sentimental here and say that it was the first time I celebrated Christmas with just my wife and my two kids. It was wonderful! It was different than anything I was used to."

McCook Community College vice president Andy Long agrees with the impact of family on the holiday. "This may be kind of cliché, but seeing the excitement of my kids enjoying Christmas seems to stand out a lot more than any gift I can remember receiving."

Surprise! Surprise! The favorite Christmas memory of Lorie Prestes, the director of the McCook Humane Society Animal Shelter, involves a dog. "Three years ago at the shelter, 'Lady' got a home on Christmas Eve," Lorie said. Lady had been at the McCook animal shelter for 10 months when a fellow walked through the front door about 15 minutes before the shelter closed at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve. "I had been visiting with this man about Lady, and he came to see her," Lorie explained. "It was a perfect fit. He adopted her and she went home for Christmas!"

Choking back tears, Michael Gonzales, director of the McCook YMCA, said his most memorable Christmas was the one when his son, Miguel, got to come home for Christmas during a deployment in Iraq with the U.S. Army. "Miguel had missed one Christmas during a deployment," Mike said, so Christmas at home during a second deployment was a special treat.

McCook veterinarian Candace Mohr said one Christmas many years ago, she had asked her husband, fellow vet Cort Mohr, for a snaffle bit for her horse, because she had resigned herself to the fact that the new horse she wanted was way out of their budget. Unwrapping her Christmas present later -- inside box after box of descending size -- Candace discovered a video. "Oh, come on. All I asked for was a snaffle bit," she admitted her initial thought about getting a video. But the video was a homemade effort, of Cort inside an arena, with a stick horse. The real gift, however, was the horse that Candace had admired. "Cort had gone to the bank and borrowed the money," Candace said, with fond memories. "We still have that horse. She's 30 years old."

McCook artist Michelle Lytle's missionary daughter Tenielle has missed past Christmases serving at orphanages in Mexico and Africa. Struggling with tears, Michelle says that her favorite Christmas hasn't happened yet. She explains, excitedly, "My girl's going to be home this year. I pick her up in Denver on Dec. 22."

Jeremy Blomstedt, also at the Gazette, said that he has learned through the years that it's more fun and more memorable to "give" than "receive."

Jeremy said his family thought they could come up with something better than "sweatpants" for his Grandfather John Bones, who was a resident at Hillcrest Nursing Home in McCook. "We were shopping at Alco and came across a big stuffed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Jeremy remembers. "He was puffy and soft, and we all said, 'Let's get that for him!'"

"While everyone else at the Hillcrest party was getting sweatpants, my grandfather got Rudolph, and his twinkling blue eyes just lit up as if they were filled by sunshine from inside. And he laughed," Jeremy said. "He was delighted, and we were delighted." Just a little more than a month later, Jeremy lost his grandfather.

A second memorable Christmas for Jeremy was when and how he proposed to his wife-to-be, Amy, "five years ago, at a family Christmas party in Palisade."

Jeremy built a big blue box similar to the engagement ring box, and filled the big box with blue tissue paper and candy "ring pops. Amy loves ring pops," Jeremy says. "I gave this big speech -- because that's what I do -- about how much I love having Amy in my life, and everyone was in tears -- including my big brother."

Jeremy continued, "I got down on my knee and Amy said 'yes.' The greatest gift I've ever gotten is when Amy said 'yes.'"

Jeremy said that because of these two experiences of giving, he's learned that "I prefer giving. Because you get a lot more when you give."

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