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The Christmas gift I always longed for ...
Was there a present you wrote on your wish list every year when you were a child -- a present you never received? Maybe it was a much-desired pet or a toy that “Santa” disapproved of. Or perhaps there’s a gift on your adult wish list that you’re still holding out hope for.
Or maybe you unexpectedly did get that longed-for item and were overjoyed.
Here, newspaper staff members reflect on holidays past and what they did, and didn’t, find under the tree.
The Christmas gift I longed for, but never received
Long after learning the truth about Santa, my sisters and I continued to hang stockings on Christmas Eve.
Mom would fill the stockings, usually with candy, an orange and an apple, and an inexpensive gift, and I would find a suitable gift for her and sign it from Santa.
As I left my teen years and moved through my 20s, 30s and 40s, I still asked for the same gift each year: “a man in my stocking.” Not literally, but what I really meant was a boyfriend.
All of my girlfriends were getting married, and I had always planned on it too, but where was he? If Santa could deliver toys and gifts to kids all over the world, maybe he could also bring me my wish. It never hurts to ask.
One year Mom really tried to fill my request. When I awoke on Christmas morning, there was a Ken doll in my stocking!
Now my age has passed Route 66, and I am headed toward 76 trombones. I still wonder why Santa never delivered my wish, but feel fairly content that he gave me many other wonderful gifts instead.
- Vonny Rohloff
Dressed up in matching coats, Mary Lee Hagert and little sister, Crystal, share their wish lists with Santa Claus.
All I want for Christmas
Oh, Barbie, how I pined for thee when I was young.
Each December Santa Claus would spend a Saturday at the Coast to Coast store in downtown Le Mars, Iowa, and I would be there to whisper in his ear that all I wanted for Christmas was a Barbie doll.
Then every Christmas morning I would dash into the living room to see if he had finally granted my wish, only to find yet another realistic baby doll under the tree.
There was never an adult-bodied Barbie with coquettish eyes and hair pulled up in a smart ponytail.
I knew my mother disapproved of Barbie’s oversized breasts, cinched-in waist, emphasis on fashion and feet permanently shaped to fit stiletto shoes.
But surely, I thought, Santa would understand my longing for a Barbie, which Mattel heavily advertised during Saturday cartoon shows. And I always puzzled over why he didn’t override Mom’s objections.
However, like most kids, the fact that I never owned a particular toy didn’t prevent me from spending countless hours playing with one.
Neighbor Lisa Grier, whose dad managed the J.C. Penney store, had every Barbie, Ken, Skipper and accessory available in the Penney’s Christmas catalog. We whiled away summer days on Lisa’s porch engaged in imaginative play with her dolls.
Back then I decided if I ever had a daughter, I’d allow Santa to bring her a Barbie. Today I understand why Mom objected to Barbie’s exaggerated figure, high-heeled feet and focus on clothes, but those things mattered little to a girl who had visions of Barbie dolls dancing in her head every Christmas Eve.
I never had a daughter, so I have not been faced directly with the question. But I will have to admit that I have donated Barbies to toy drives.
-- Mary Lee Hagert
My kids have pretty close to no money.
Every year they used to ask me what I wanted for Christmas, while fully intending to figure out how to get it. My answer for recent years has been, “Write me a letter.” I mean, who needs more stuff?
“Aw, Dad,” I used to hear, because let’s face it, a letter requires a lot more thought and effort than a quick shopping trip to the mall. But I kept at it, year after year, sounding like a broken record, and then I finally got one. Then another one, and last year even one without asking!
I feel it’s the best present a parent could hope for: a letter reminiscing about the trips, adventures, fun times and favorite memories -- sometimes about small things that maybe I had forgotten about -- that we’ve shared over the years.
And there have been “thank yous” too; I’ve been thanked for teaching them that old black-and-gray movies are actually good, that you don’t always have to “hop” on a game board when moving your piece, and how to make a mean grilled cheese!
I even carry copies of the letters in my briefcase -- can you say that about soap-on-a-rope or a bottle of aftershave?
So my daughters -- the college student and the single mom schoolteacher with two kids -- will probably do it again this year. At least that’s my hope.
That leaves my construction worker son, who I saw measuring my vehicle floor recently -- maybe he’s thinking of those mats they keep advertising on TV. I think I’ll tell him again about the letters.
-- Denny Lynard
It’s about managed expectations
The other day, I read a short blog entry about parents managing their kids’ expectations for the holidays.
It was presented in the context of absurd, annotated Christmas wish lists that children had written this year, dotted with the kinds of things that could run up a $3,000 credit card bill.
I remember dreaming up such lists as a kid. Power Rangers. Legos. Those tiny plastic motorized vehicles known as Power Wheels. The newest video game systems.
But I knew I wouldn’t get most of these dream items. Yeah right. A giant plastic car that I can drive around the house?
My parents were pretty straightforward about it. Anything out of their price range, or anything to the tune of a Red Ryder BB gun, they told me I shouldn’t expect months ahead of time.
And so I got what I got: some of what I wanted, maybe an ugly sweater, too much candy, and new objects to be excited about for a week before quickly forgetting about them, breaking them, or getting used to them.
As far as I can recall, my pared down expectations of presents didn’t dim my hyperactive excitement surrounding the holiday.
Nine-year-old me dressed up as Santa using my red PJ’s and a wad of cotton balls, loosely held together with Scotch tape, taped to my chin. Santa-clad, I assembled a makeshift reindeer and sled out of dining room chairs.
Other years, I put detailed questionnaires next to the cookies we left for Santa. My father was then tasked with the tedious job of responding, explaining how one man could simultaneously deliver gifts to so many people all at once, or how he was able to enter into my family home, which had no chimney, without leaving footprints. He was also tasked with eating about a dozen cookies.
Despite managed expectations, I think my parents stressed out over the holidays during my adolescent years. Other kids at school were getting the works -- enormous Lego sets, toys for their pools, Sony Playstation the year it came out. But these days, Mom and Dad can relax. All their kids are grown, and could ostensibly be called “adults” and, for the most part, our expectations are limited to a free meal and some time where we can all sit around and talk and laugh.
And also, I could use some new socks.
— Patrick Larkin
Alex Holmquist tries out her new doctor set on her mom, with piles of presents waiting nearby.
Santa was good to me
I was the first grandchild born to my parents’ generation and I was an only child for the first six years of my life -- needless to say I was slightly ... OK, maybe more than slightly ... spoiled.
With so many doting adults -- my mom and dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles -- I have to admit there was never a toy shortage in my house, and I don’t remember ever asking for a Christmas gift that I didn’t receive.
You name it, I probably had it. From my Waterbaby doll, Suzie Stretch, four American Girl dolls, Super Nintendo, Skip-It to my 12 Tamagotchis, it’d probably be easier to name the toys I DIDN’T have. But two favorite Christmas gifts stick out in my memory.
The first was a Barbie Dream House to house all 45 ...yes 45 ... of my Barbie dolls and their massive amounts of clothing, accessories and furniture.
The other gift was a Little Mermaid electric kid’s car, which I loved riding around in. Unfortunately, I remember that car mysteriously disappeared after a neighbor caught me cruising down the middle of the street one day as I tried to round the block.
I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I’m already looking forward to spoiling my 5-month-old goddaughter this Christmas. A Little Mermaid electric car will not be one of her gifts.
-- Alex Holmquist
Christmas list? I’ll do it later
I rarely made Christmas lists.
My youngest sister took full advantage of the holiday. She knew what she wanted and she asked for it. Minutes after she shredded the wrappings from her presents on Christmas morning, she would start writing down her demands for the next year. I procrastinated.
My older brother often managed to organize a “family present,” which usually meant the latest gaming system. I wanted to like what my brother liked because he liked it. But once I got the controller in my hands, I remembered I didn’t like video games.
With no list to shop from, my parents sometimes resorted to gift cards or cash.
After the wrapping paper was tossed out and I brushed off the candy-cane red from my tongue and teeth before bed, I finally started thinking about what I really wanted. My mom tells me I would know it when I saw it out shopping.
When my age hit double digits, I asked for music stuff.
I wanted a Sony Walkman, and later, an iPod. Too expensive.
One Christmas, my parents gave me a boombox.
It was a step up from the Fisher-Price tape recorder I used as a preteen to capture and replay sappy hit songs like “Truly, Madly, Deeply” by Savage Garden from the radio. But, it wasn’t sleak, shiny or branded with a silver apple.
As I got older, my music got louder. I blared rock albums -- Radiohead’s “The Bends” -- on my boombox over and over.
That probably helped motivate my parents to buy me a portable CD player with a pair of good headphones. It was off-brand and quickly drained pairs of double-A batteries. But, at least it fit in my backpack.
-- Kaitlyn Roby
Johanna Holub notes: Circa 1994, Mom says I was so excited about the snow I could hardly stand it. Oh, how the times have changed...
As a kid, I never seemed to have the right set of parents — the ones who wanted to give me everything I asked for. Don’t get me wrong; they did pretty well. I was just an exceptionally demanding child.
But over the years, I’ve managed to make up for a few perceived childhood losses.
For example: the trip to Disneyland I was never able to experience as a tot? A 15-year-old me convinced my parents that it was a good idea to go there for spring break, and we all suffered through the long amusement park lines of crying children as well as the inevitable California sunburn that we Minnesotans can never seem to avoid no matter how much SPF 80 we slather on our delicate, pasty skin.
To this day, however, I still wish we had gotten a dog one year. Just imagine — Christmas morning, a tiny dog with a little red bow sits under the tree, waiting to be loved by two adoring children.
This dream is quite the burden on my father, the most vocal of opponents to the puppy plan. For a while, it was three against one — my mom, younger brother and myself — for getting a pooch. We discussed just showing up at home with a dog (“Well, we can’t just take it back, you know”) or somehow proving to Dad how responsibly we could care for it without his help.
However, as my younger brother has reached his 20s, he, too, has said, “Bah, humbug,” and changed his mind about living with a furry friend.
It’s a dream my mother and I have not yet abandoned, and I’ve promised Mom that when I get a dog, I will need a reliable dog-sitter.
— Johanna Holub
What I wanted but didn’t get for Christmas
As far as things go, there wasn’t much of anything I wanted and didn’t get for Christmas as a child, except maybe a couple more Nancy Drew books to trade off with friends.
It wasn’t that I had everything, but without the endless ads everywhere of today and Christmas decorations in the stores before Halloween, I wasn’t sucked into wanting lots of things I didn’t need.
As a mother, I found that buying gifts for my kids and other family members and seeing their excitement was far more engrossing than wanting things myself. There wasn’t anything I needed anyway. It’s the same being a grandma.
What I really wanted was the impossible -- to bring back the two important people in my life who died prematurely around Christmas.
One death was many years ago now, but I still remember how I spent that Christmas sobbing at my parents’ house.
The other was just a few years ago, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to celebrate Christmas at all. That memory still brings on tears.
And this will be my first Christmas without my mother.
Still, life goes on and I usually focus on all the positive things in my life, particularly my family but lots of other things, too. I feel blessed. It’s not what I didn’t get for Christmas that I focus on, but all that I have.
-- Pamela O’Meara
Holly Wenzel notes: This photo ran in the Diamond Drill weekly newspaper (how’s that for a name for an Iron Range paper?) with the kicker ‘Happiness is... a spotted rabbit.’ The plaque is probably from a spelling bee. (Bonus commentary: The visible mark that gives away a more-than 3-inch hem on the jeans represents my mother’s apparent hope I’d be able to wear that pair for up to four years, given enough hem to let out. She sees this photo now and says, ‘What was I thinking?’) Spot got to the Drill “shoot” that day by car, though he took other types of transportation as well.
Rabbit on wheels, or ‘See Spot Roll’
I don’t recall any presents I desperately wanted that I didn’t get; my parents were generous and my younger-age wants were confined mainly to toy horses and dogs or books, preferably ones about horses or dogs.
But, looking back, I probably shouldn’t have gotten that doll carriage I so desperately wanted for Christmas when I was 5 years old.
Thank goodness I did, though, because it opened the door to a variety of adventures.
‘You want what?’
My mother thought my plea for a doll buggy was a wildly incongruous request, most obviously because I didn’t like dolls.
My immediate toy “family” was comprised of stuffed animals and model horses. Who lived in the two-story suburban-style Marx dollhouse? Horses, which couldn’t even be fake-walked up the stamped-metal staircase. Who slept in bed with me every night? Several creatively-named stuffies: a fawn called “Bambi,” a Pekingese named “Fluffy” and a collie answering to “Lassie.”
Mother apparently asked enough pointed questions about what I intended to do with a doll buggy that my early-to-develop skeptic sense alerted. Whether or not Santa was responsible for gift-giving, there seemed be a hostile intermediary involved.
I reportedly declared after a particularly heated negotiation: “If there isn’t a doll buggy under that tree on Christmas Day I’m not going to open a single present.”
As illogical a threat as that was, it was the defiance that shocked her. Reserved, bespectacled and bookish, I was about as far from “mouthy” as you could get.
She didn’t dare tell my father, who might have considered canceling Christmas as an object lesson. She simply ordered the cheapest (sorry, Mom -- “most inexpensive”) doll buggy Sears sold and left it, unwrapped, in front of the tree and all the other presents as a peace offering.
There followed a couple happy years rolling stuffed animals and model horses around the house and yard.
And then, the momentous Easter I received a weeks-old black-and-white spotted rabbit.
“Spot” -- there’s that knack for distinctive naming again -- was just a tiny ball of fluff at the time, but was destined to grow into 11-plus pounds of what we think was mostly Checkered Giant, one of the largest of rabbit breeds.
Naturally, Spot immediately became the sole beneficiary of wheeled trips around the yard and neighborhood and sometimes “downtown” to our version of Main Street.
He appeared to enjoy every minute of it, black ears alert, eyes shining and busy nose sniffing over the edge of the buggy.
Many a sweet old lady was nearly startled into a decline, approaching us from the front where the sunshade was and leaning over expecting to see a cherished and inanimate doll.
Once over the shock, they had nothing to fear. From day one, Spot exhibited 110 percent of his breed’s temperament, which “is active, energetic and can be very playful.”
His most common stance was sitting up on his haunches to get a better view of what was going on, and his attitude toward people and other animals was friendly, confident and curious.
Soon, Spot’s transportation and social options expanded exponentially, as he was deemed trustworthy enough, housebreaking-wise, to ride in the car on my lap.
While my mother shopped, I could take him to the variety store, where he was welcomed inside as something of a local celebrity, and to the grocery store, where we waited in the covered entryway as customers came and went.
People were used to seeing dogs and cats out and about, but not rabbits, and certainly not this kind.
“That’s the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen in my life” was a typical reaction, though to my mother’s consternation my favorite was “I thought I was drunk when I saw that huge rabbit out there.”
Whether it seemed odd to other people or not, once we’d established the habit of taking a rabbit on these outings, Spot went out regularly.
We’d visit a local lakeside, and he’d feast on what apparently was a particularly fine variety of clover. Or we’d eat outside a drive-in or fast-food place, with him taking in the new scenery on a collar and leash and always ready to hop up and meet people.
By this time, he’d developed so much social aplomb my mother would explain to wondering observers, “Well, Holly wanted a dog, so she treated the rabbit like a dog. And after a while we realized he thinks he’s a person.”
To my parents’ mixed emotions, Spot acquired a vet whose clinic was in a town 45 minutes away. This really was a concession, especially considering late-’70s gasoline was such an investment.
Sure, Spot was a pet and should be kept in good health, but at that time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the dogs who never met a vet might have been in the majority, and the cats certainly were. (There was also the irony that Spot came to us from a large family which stretched its meat budget with the oddly long-legged “chickens” raised in the back yard. Hence the choice to breed 11-pounders.)
Spot only had to be driven 20 miles to be shown at the rabbit barn at the county fair, but we did have to pay the premium to enter him. Plus there was the extra trip the day of the judging for his mistress to groom him.
He won a blue ribbon, and I’ve always liked to think it was thanks to his personality, not poundage.
His farthest foray: the 150-mile trip to the family cottage. A rabbit of any kind is an odd sight on a sandy Great Lakes beach, and it must have felt like a visit to an alien planet to him, but he was as eager to explore as in the yard at home. “Just grab him if you see a hawk,” my father warned.
The one variant on the doll buggy I feel a bit ill at ease about now was the sled.
Not made for speed
An avid sledder from the time I could toddle, I especially enjoyed the long run on our alley, 150 yards worth of a fairly steep slope.
On the days a snowfall had gotten away from the city plows and my father had to take a couple runs at the hill in the Plymouth to reach the house, I considered conditions just about right.
Spot was perfectly happy to accompany me outside in other winter play and especially enjoyed digging tunnels in the snow, snowplowing out the detritus with his front paws, while I built a similarly constructed fort nearby. I assumed he’d also like sledding, so Spot got to partake in that, too.
Somewhere we have a home movie -- soundless, 8 mm -- of me sitting semi-cross-legged in a plastic sled at the top of the alley, with Spot thoughtfully placed between my legs, nearly at the front, where he’d get the best experience. I push off with mittened hands, smiling broadly at the camera as we gain speed.
Spot, as is his custom, raises his head to peer over my legs and the nose of the sled to see what’s happening. Then he ducks, perhaps because of the rush of air. Then he pops up again for a moment, ears fluttering in the wind. Then he ducks. Up again, ears and whiskers pinned back this time. Down. And repeat all the way down the hill, until I execute a skidding 180-degree stop at the bottom, get out and pull the sled back up the hill, with Spot still riding.
I think now the poor thing was caught in an all-too-human dilemma: he couldn’t stand to look and he couldn’t stand not to.
He certainly did seem to think he was human, and he did display curiosity, affection, humor and -- heaven knows -- patience you wouldn’t normally expect from a rabbit.
We might not have recognized so much of it if his horizons hadn’t been broadened by a doll buggy.
Holly Wenzel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7811.