Tom Ross: Childhood holiday gifts can create enduring memories in the minds of seniors
Holiday gifts that make memories
Steamboat Springs — My favorite gift, which my parents put under the Christmas tree for me when I was a boy, was an aquarium stocked with brightly colored tropical fish.
I had no clue it was coming, and when I stumbled bleary-eyed into the darkened living room to find the brightly lit aquarium stocked with neon tetras darting through the aquatic plants, I was transfixed.
It’s a holiday memory that will stay with me forever. And with the durability of that memory in mind, I set off Dec. 23, pen and notepad in hand, for the Steamboat Springs Community Center where I knew the Routt County Council on Aging would be hosting a group of seniors for a holiday luncheon.
Overcoming my natural shyness, I approached a table of older dudes to ask them to share their memories of a favorite childhood Christmas gift that remains vivid to this day.
It took Gil Fifield a few minutes to warm up to me, but “a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.”
Fifield, who grew up in a little town in Central New York and skied Greek Peak, told me he still remembers the Christmas morning when a pair of wooden Northland skis appeared next to the tree. But that led him to another memory and his favorite skis of all time.
“When I was in sixth grade, I made my own skis from sauerkraut barrel staves,” Fifield said. “I still have them. They have bear trap bindings, and I put metal edges on them.”
The curved barrel staves gave the skis extreme double camber, and Fifield quipped they were the original freestyle ballet skis.
“I could spin circles on them,” he claimed.
Betty Kemry, who grew up among pioneers on the family cattle ranch near Milner, recalled the Christmas when her parents put one over on her and her sister, Mary. Their parents left a pair of wooden skis for each daughter behind the Christmas tree days before Dec. 25, and neither girl even noticed them. Betty estimates she was 10, which would mean it was Christmas 1940.
Betty confessed that while that was an exciting Christmas morning, she never fell in love with the skis while striding around the family ranch.
“I hated them because the bindings were so poor,” she admitted. “They were just leather straps. You couldn’t do much with them.”
Rosa Lawton estimated she was 9 when she found a doll under the Christmas tree.
“It looked like a Barbie doll, but it was about 19 inches long,” she remembered. “My mother (Nina Brock) sewed clothes for it. She made a blouse and skirt and a wedding gown. It was around for years and years.”
Rick Rapalee recalls the Christmas morning when Santa Claus left him a brown stuffed horse under the tree. Rapalee named the horse “Ricky” — what a coincidence — and used to pretend he was riding his horse though the mountains.
Dottie Singer, who grew up in Albany, New York, was one of those children who had the misfortune to be born two days before Christmas.
“You could never have a party on your birthday, and I usually got one big gift,” she remembered.
However there was one, non-traditional gift she received that demonstrated her parents understood their daughter well.
“They give me a little desk,” she said. “I used to like to doodle and draw and draw comics out of the newspaper. I did like that desk. I felt like it was all mine.”
Of course, there are times when a child longs for a special holiday gift that his or her parents cannot afford. Sometimes, that unquenched longing results in the best Christmas mornings of all.
“My parents were not rich,” Gary Anderson began. “In the summertime, I loved playing rec league baseball. The rich kids had nice baseball shoes with spikes, but I only had tennis shoes.
“When I asked my parents for shoes with spikes, they’d say, ‘It’s a bad month. We really can’t afford them right now. Your tennis shoes are good enough.’”
Something that simple, that makes a child feel like they fit in with their peers can mean a great deal. When their parents recognize it, and come through in the end, it creates a lasting memory.
When Anderson’s 12th Christmas arrived, it all came together.
“Guess what I got?” he asked. “A pair spikes, and they were sized big enough to fit me in the spring.”
Happy holidays and may all your wishes be fulfilled.
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