Friday, December 13, 2019

All I Want for Christmas is...



RHYS BOWEN: What was your favorite Christmas present ever? I know what mine was. I was 18. Transistor radios had just come on the market (yes, I realize this declares me to be OLD) and I really wanted one. But my close friend was getting married in Germany and I was invited to be part of her wedding. So my parents were buying me my train ticket to Stuttgart for Christmas, and I wasn’t expecting any presents.

Even though I was no longer officially a child I still had my Christmas stocking at the bottom of my bed. I woke early in the morning and started to go through it, expecting the sort of things that were usually in it: a sugar mouse, maybe a handkerchief, a pair of socks, a notebook. Instead I pulled out a battery. What on earth? I asked myself. What use is a battery to me? And then I felt excitement creeping up my spine. It couldn’t be, could it?  And there at the bottom of my stocking was my transistor radio.  Thinking of it still brings tears to my eyes. I'm sure it was my soft-hearted dad who thought of that.

I have tried to duplicate that feeling with my own kids whenever I get a chance. The year that the Phantom of the Opera came to San Francisco for the first time the kids were in college or high school. I tried to get tickets but they were way over our budget. Then John stopped by the theater, just in case. It turned out they had obstructed view seats, two for one night, two for another at a reasonable cost. We bought them. They turned out to be the stage box. How amazing was that? So I made up an impressive invitation:

You are invited to attend an evening of music and mayhem with me
On….
Signed, 
Your friend, the Phantom.

I watched the first of the kids open this, expecting it to be a Christmas card, read it and then look up, face alight with excitement. No way! Really?

They went on two separate evenings. Jane and Dominic went together and he, my future actor, then in high school, insisted they went in full evening dress: tux and top hat, and a long dress for her. It was an evening they’d never forget.

Apart from those the gifts that stay in my memory are hand made ones. I still have crude pieces of pottery, strange tree ornaments from their early years. Dominic continues that tradition: one year he made aromatherapy candles for everyone, another year home made bread with a jar of his sourdough starter. I have velvet pillows Clare made one year. One year I made bead bracelets for all the women in the family. These days it’s a question of time. All of my kids are working like crazy while driving kids to sports and drama practices. And the grandchildren are no longer able to be pleased with a hand knitted sweater or home made puppet.
But I still love the simple gifts. I long for a classic Christmas like the ones on TV movies.

Trying to recreate this simpler, magical feeling of Christmas we rented a house in the snow with another family one year. When we arrived it was like a Christmas card scene. Snow everywhere, so beautiful. Then the first night it rained. And rained. And the snow melted. And it was raining too hard for the kids to go outside and play. And there was no TV. And the other wife got sick so I had to do the cooking. Needless to say this was not a fond Christmas memory. 

However, one year we took a Christmas markets cruise through Austria and Germany. That was fabulous, seeing handmade toys, those rolling pins for making cookies, smelling spiced wine and sausages cooking and seeing the wonder in children’s eyes. I suppose what I’m nostalgic for is for another, simpler time. How about you?

What was your favorite Christmas? Favorite gift?

60 comments:

  1. If we are all together for Christmas, I consider that a wonderful gift. I love seeing our children and grandchildren open presents, sharing their excitement and anticipation.
    I always say I don’t need anything [and I don’t] but among my favorite gifts are charm bracelet from my mom many, many years ago, a little angel necklace that John gave me one year, a special Precious Moments piece from my daughter, a space shuttle model from my other daughter . . . .

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  2. What lovely memories, Rhys. I remember when transistor radios were the biggest deal.

    My favorite ever Christmas gift came when I was ten. I was the oldest, with two younger siblings, but a week before Christmas that year our youngest brother was born. He and Mother came home on Christmas Day. I was as enthralled with him as only a ten-year old girl can be, and we continue to be close, 58 years later. Which reminds me, I need to send his card!

    By the way, Rhys, you were given credit and a very great compliment yesterday. My husband's cousin has had a horribly hard year, with two family members with cancer, including her 28- year old, newly married grandson. Then her longtime partner died of cancer, around New Year's, and Judy had to move from her lovely home of many years. She was always a big reader, but had not been able to settle down for months until she picked up your last two Georgies, on my recommendation. Now she's reading Constable Evans, and she already read a Molly book! Thank you, for helping her re-enter.

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    1. Karen, thank you for sharing this it always makes me feel so humble and yet warm to know my books have actually helped

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  4. There was a year I wanted the board game Trust Me. It was never very popular, so it was hard to find even then. Guess what Grandma Baker got for me that year. I was so thrilled!

    Then there was the year we were remodeling the house. Money was tight, so Mom had warned us that Christmas wasn't going to be extravagant that year. With the remodel, we were short on space, so the tree didn't even go up until the 24th. But what was under the tree for me the next morning? The series of books I was dying to get. I was so happy.

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  5. This year both my sons and my daughter-in-law will be home for Christmas, which is a very special gift! Just to have them here to cook and bake with me and sit around playing games will be a huge treat.

    I've often given homemade gifts. One year I made everyone aprons, another year colorful cloth coasters, another year a selection of candy.

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  6. I can't say what my favorite Christmas was, I never really thought about it that way. I usually got a few great gifts each year so each Christmas was usually enjoyable. Favorite gift? When I got my first stereo system would probably be at the top of the list.

    My favorite gift that I was part of giving to someone else involved my grandmother. After my grandfather died, she stopped wanting any gifts from her relatives. I was the only one she would let get her a gift. It was usually something small that she wanted, a new fancy salt and pepper shaker set was one gift she wanted.

    But one year she told the entire family that unless we were going to give her 1,000 dollars, she didn't want ANYONE giving her anything. She said it so that she really meant that she didn't want anything. But in my family, all her "demand" meant is that is exactly what we did.

    Each member of the family came up with their share of the money and on Christmas Eve, I got to present her with a box that when she opened it she found exactly what she "asked" for. Yep, it was a box with 1,000 one dollar bills!

    She was moved to tears but upset that we took her literally and tried to give it back to us. She did end up keeping it when I told her, "Grandma, think of it this way. This just means you can give us really great gifts next year!" This broke up everyone in the room.

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  7. I love all of these stories--thanks for sharing everyone! The favorite thing I gave was the year my in-laws moved out of their big old house. I saved a battered quilt that couldn't be resuscitated and sewed little lavender-stuffed pillows for each of the offspring with a note about the provenance of the quilt. People loved them!

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    1. That's brilliant, Roberta. I have a quilt my mom made that got too tattered. But I could make it into pillows. Not this year, but next. Thanks for the idea!

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  8. What I'm remembering were the wrong gifts I got... My daughter wanted a My Buddy (remember him?)doll. Our neighborhood store had one, but it was a knock off which she instantly spotted when she opened it. I screwed up once with a un-My Pony. I'm much more careful with my grandkids and check with their mom on exactly what they want. Last year I got my granddaughter a tumbling mat and a black Yoga outfit ... big hit. And for our grandson, whose favorite place to stop on his walk home from pre-school, is the local fire station, a big toy fire truck. Another hit. Hoping we do as well this year. My favorite gift to get these days is nice soap. Really. Oh, and chocolates. What I don't need is another *thing* in my house. What do you think about giving gift cards? I used to give them but have stopped.

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    1. We are thinking of bookstore gift cards for the "kids" this year - they are all big readers and they can pick their own books (and for the one in Puerto Rico, he can have them shipped there).

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    2. I’m always happy with bath things, Hallie

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    3. When I still got gifts, I liked receiving gift cards. I'd get it for a couple of restaurants I liked, the record shop, the comic shop or even just the grocery store. And let's not forget that all important Barnes and Noble gift card! After Christmas I could go out and get exactly what I wanted.

      I have no problem giving or receiving gift cards at all.

      Speaking of soaps, I went to an event with a friend of mine a couple summers back. While checking out the vendor's room I came across a woman that was selling soaps and lotions, stuff like that. I'm not all that big into that kind of stuff but I just couldn't resist one that was labeled Dragon's Blood!

      Yes indeed, I can hilariously say that I've bathed in dragon's blood and sound like the coolest (or nerdiest) Game of Thrones fan ever!

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  9. I must be in a serious bah humbug mood this morning. I can't remember a single outstanding Christmas gift that I've received. Perhaps it is because I don't really like getting but adore giving. Rhys, I got a transistor radio when I graduated from high school. It was huge compared to today's models, and the cost was shared among my aunts and uncles, very pricy back in the day. That was 1957. Yes, I am old too.

    If anyone feels the urge to get me something though, jewelry is always welcome as is good perfume, silk anything, and cookies.

    Ah, just remembered my favorite gift ever. It was decades ago, a birthday gift. My precious friend Pauline made me a batch of sausage rolls. I was invited to her home to sample them and then take them home. But another car pulled up outside. It was another friend with a load of children.
    Very quickly we bagged up the sausage rolls and hid them in the oven so I wouldn't have to share.
    And we all politely ignored their fragrance that permeated the kitchen. Yum.

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    1. Maybe I’ll have to hide the mince pies, Ann

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    2. You might! Those are on the agenda for Christmas Eve, so easy to make and so good when fresh. Actually good any time. lol

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  10. I remember getting a ten-speed bicycle for Christmas when I was 12 or 13. I was very excited and rode it all over the place for years. I have often had trouble finding just the right gift for my wife, so I'm pretty excited when I come up with something she loves. This year she's given me my best gift ever: a kidney. After a year of dialysis I feel like I have my life back.

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  11. Sweet story, Rhys! And your question on favorite Christmas gift is very easy to answer - a puppy! There was no topping that one so in the years after that there were no really remarkable gifts. My younger son's birth was due on Christmas day but instead he arrived a week later on New Year's eve. That would have been the best gift.

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    1. My son was due on the 22nd. I swore I wouldn’t be in hospital for Christmas Day. Luckily he came early on the 17 th

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  12. On a Cleveland December night, the snow belting down outside the peach birthing suite, I gave birth to my youngest, Julia. She joined her older brother and sister for the best Christmas ever!

    This year will be special too: three kids and two spouses under one roof plus Louie, our standard poodle puppy, and standard Jazz.

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  13. My favorite gifts have always been books. As a child, my mother would collect books throughout the year from yard sales and used book shops, and on Christmas morning I would receive a paper grocery sack FULL of books. As an adult, it's been a special pleasure to get a much-anticipated book on the morning, and then after a looong day of guests, settle down in front of the fireplace to read on Christmas night.

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    1. Julia, I love getting books and I give them as well.

      My friend Ann is getting a signed Maddie Day.

      One co-worker is getting two Maddie Day books (unsigned).

      Another co-worker is getting a B&N gift card (she's impossible to shop for!)

      My two young cousins got two books apiece that continue my mom's tradition of sending them books.


      My nephew is getting three books from Brad Meltzer's "I Am" series, including "I Am Walt Disney" which I had signed by Meltzer earlier this year. He put an inscription that was awesome, particularly because I didn't ask him to do it.

      One of my trivia team partners, the 77 year old Brit who blew a Charles Dickens trivia question, is getting a copy of "A Tale of Two Cities". So I can tease him AND give him a gift all at the same time.

      And I'm pretty sure my cousin that is the mother of the two cousins that I sent two books apiece sent me the new Archer Mayor, but I can't open the package until Xmas.

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    2. Thanks, Jay, from Maddie and me!

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    3. Oh gosh dare I admit it... I hated getting books. A Room of One’s Own for a 15-year old?

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    4. Julia,

      Books are wonderful Christmas gifts. This year I bought copies of books about climate change written by Greta Thunberg and I plan to give them as Christmas gifts.

      Diana

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    5. Hallie,

      It's so funny that you didn't like books as Christmas gifts. And I loved A Room of Her Own when I was 18 and at university.

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    6. Julia, what a wonderful gift from you mother! I give myself a bag of books at Christmas now, have done so for quite a few years. Even though I know what's in the bag, it's fun taking each book out and looking at it anew.

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  14. Your stories are dislodging memories! When I was 5 or so our parents surprised me and big brother with a dachsund puppy for Christmas. Home movies show a very lively black dog wearing a red bow jumping up and licking faces.
    One year I made jerky for my father-in-law. He loved it. He asked for the recipe and started making his own. He stored it in his office safe whenever certain grandchildren were visiting.

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    1. Pat, we just made venison jerky yesterday! My son-in-law loves it, so a bagful will be part of his Christmas gift.

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  15. There were various toys that were a big hit when I was growing up. But one of my all-time favorite Christmas memories comes from adult life, after being married into my husband's big, crazy, loving family for years already. One of his brothers was living in Austin with his two little girls and his wife who was in the middle of some coursework to make a career change into teaching when he abruptly lost his job, leaving them with zero incomes instead of two. The other seven siblings and spouses decided that year instead of drawing names in the gift exchange as we traditionally do, we would each contribute the $50 or so we would have spent on a gift and send it to the brother in Austin. I don't remember how much it totaled, but it was easily over $1,000 (in something like 1999 dollars.) Then I was charged with writing the cover letter that would make him accept it in the spirit it was given, and not take offense. I slaved over that letter, and it worked as intended. It was a beautiful Christmas all around.

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  16. Favorite Christmas gifts ever were gifts of memories--my mom dancing to fiddle music to the delight of my dad and her sisters--it was her last Christmas with us. And years earlier, playing dominoes with my mom and dad and other family members and my mom (who usually never played games) cheating like crazy and everyone laughing--my parents were conspiring to cheer up my baby sister, who was going through a difficult time and it worked!

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  17. What a lovely post, Rhys. Favorite Christmas present from my teens, I think, was the hardcover set of Lord of the Rings. I still have them!

    Favorite recent Christmas? Four or five years ago, I think--our daughter and son-in-law had already moved into the house next door. Usually we would go to my aunt's for Christmas, but that year there was snow in the forecast so we were prepared to cook if it did. (You people from northern climates have to understand that people in Dallas don't drive--or shouldn't drive unless essential--in snow and ice. Bridges and overpasses will be sanded, but otherwise the roads are treacherous.) Wonder of wonders we awoke to a white Christmas! We cooked brisket and the four of us sat around the fire all day. It was absolutely lovely, and we've stayed home for Christmas ever since. No snow, however!

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    1. When I was in high school my big brother gave me a paperback of The Hobbit. That started my Middle Earth adventures.

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  18. My fave? Hmm. Many many years ago, when I was maybe 14? My stepfather, a lawyer, gave me a contact for four hair-cuts, all very legally perfect and in legalese, and signed by Santa Clause. It was adorable, and even cuter because he was not very affectionate.But later,I realized, that it was
    self-preservation, and trying to make sure his Beatle-crazy step=daughter stopped cutting her own hair in a Sassoon.

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  19. The best gift I every recieved as a kid (same for my twin sister) was a Ginny doll, her white trunk (twin's was red), and six outfits. All the girls wanted Ginny that year! Since the girl across the street got a Ginny also we all played together all year.

    One of the best gifts I ever gave was the Christmas I bought all the women in the family Crayons and coloring books as a joke. They all were thrilled.

    We also do crazy things in our family. One year daughter-in-law got socks from everyone. Another year, Hubby got hair combs because he mention he lost is tail comb. I got Phillips head screw drivers, a dozen and half of them, because I didn't have one in my tool box. This year we bought daughter Ziploc freezer bags as her joke gift. Have to decide if I will tell the rest of the same. Not sure where she will store boxes and boxes of Ziploc bags...LOL

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    1. My husband bought me an ironing board one of our first Christmasses. He's never lived that down!

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  20. So many wonderful stories, Rhys! You once mentioned getting an orange for Christmas in England. I loved reading all about Christmas memories in the comments.

    For me, I barely remember the Christmas presents (I think I got books, clothes and toys?) . My favorite Christmas traditions growing up was going to the Dickens' Christmas Faire with my family and one year my Mom, who is an English teacher, took her class of 15 year olds with us to the Dickens' Christmas Faire. We would go to the Nutcracker Ballet every Christmas. I remember ice skating at Iceland skating rink during the Christmas season. The rink closed several years ago. One year we visited my Grandfather for Christmas, which was an hour away by plane. I remember the beautiful Christmas tree and the wonderful Christmas goodies, Again, I do not remember the gifts. Now I remember the more recent gifts like the 12 Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen and many wonderful books.

    Just realized that I was always home with my family for Christmas. I feel fortunate to be able to do that.

    Diana

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  21. Rhys, the transistor radio at the bottom of your stocking is such a great Christmas story. I don't have anything like that I remember. But, growing up with three siblings, Christmas was always exciting, and then when my older siblings got married and had children, the tons of presents under the tree and a full-to-bursting house made Christmas a fun and eventful time. And, when I moved away after getting married and had my two children, I had the best time fixing Santa under the tree and the stockings. It's a bit quiet these days, but my husband and I go to my daughter's on Christmas Day for our family meal, and I get to give the granddaughters presents and be with them and all the rest of the family. So, it looks like being with family is the best thing about Christmas for me.

    Books have long been my favorite gifts to receive. I have a memory that stands out from a Christmas when I was probably ten or under, and my mother calling from my father's real estate office downtown to talk to me about what books I might want for Christmas. For some reason that memory has stood out, as I was so happy to sit at the little telephone table we had (and I now use as my nightstand) and talk to my mother about books. And, snow. It seems we always had snow on Christmas, and I recall looking out the big picture window (anyone remember those?) in the early morning light, which was still half dark, at the snow and the lighted Christmas tree and presents in front and feeling that the world was magical.

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  22. My favorite gift as a kid was a kid's drum kit - I was grade school age and very much wanted to learn to play drums (sadly, it was the 70s and 4th grade band put me on the bells all the time because I was the only girl in percussion). I don't actually remember PLAYING it so maybe I didn't torture my parents that much. I also remember an older cousin (Bryan) that Christmas Day putting a stick through the bass.

    My favorite *memory* of Christmas gifts is that we would get a book of our each Christmas. We hit the library hard a lot so we weren't deprived but it was nice to have our very own. When small, it was a new Old Mother West Wind book (different animals had their own books). Older, it was a new Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book (I preferred the Hardy Boys.)

    I have no memory of this (in my defense), but there's a family story that when I was very little (2-3-ish?) I apparently really really REALLY wanted a doll called Baby Go Bye Bye. I didn't get one. I sobbed, saying "Santa doesn't love me." (So they say). Somehow my dad went out and found one that day. I loved that doll for many years.

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    1. Gulp. There's a mint condition doll with buggy on Ebay ....

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  23. My favorite Christmas gift as a child was a doll bed my father had made in his wood shop. My mother made sheets and coverlets for it. Such a surprise!

    As I got older, I started making Christmas presents myself. I can still remember staying up past 3 am to get the final beads sewn onto a cat-sized stuffed dragon I made for my sister. I still love getting just the perfect present for someone, and watching their face light up on Christmas morning.

    Rhys, the thought of your family attending "Phantom" in full formal regalia is just priceless. I'll bet they loved it, and so did the people in the audience around them.

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  24. My favorite memory was/is my mother reading 'Twas the Night before Christmas every year to me and my brother and then to my hooligans. It was just lovely and thrilling and magical.

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  25. My brother actually gave me a box full of coal as a kid. We had a coal furnace then. Lucky for him, he got me another present, too. He bought me a Fury plastic horse when we were kids, and Greeting Card Factory which I use to make cards on the computer as an adult. Now I exchange gift cards with my friends because we all have a lot of stuff so prefer to pick our own gifts.

    When I was little, my grandmothers and great-aunt used to fuss that we didn't need to buy them anything. Mom never said anything to Dad's relatives but she told HER mother that the kids wanted to get you something so just say "thank you". And Grandma did for the rest of her life. Kids should learn to give as well as receive.

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  26. JRW 12.13.19

    I am so moved by all the wonderful stories and many kindnesses. The gift that came to mind was one I received on the Christmas after my 12th birthday. My first pair of nylons, real 15 denier nylons. The sort that needed a garter belt. No, not stating the obvious here. I sat hardly daring to move. Such a feeling. Now transistors; my father built my first radio before transistors were on the market. It was small maybe 6"x 4", only got a couple of stations but I would lie in the dark listening to Top of the Pops. A few years later my mum and I smuggled s couple of transistors in our bags returning home fromAfrica. Much cheaper there. Christmas gifts for my brother and sister who were thrilled.
    Now I chose carefully for teen grandsons and always include a book. Books are my fav gift along with a big bottle of Badabas pine for the wonderful scent it adds to my bath.

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  27. Wow, what wonderful stories. My magical Christmases were when I was very young and my great grandfather still alive. He lived in upstate New York and would take the kids to Christmas Eve services in a horse drawn sleigh. Somehow there was always a shooting star to be seen and he would tell us that was Pere Noel. We believed.

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  28. For me it was a book "Lassie and the Mystery of Blueberry Bog". I was in Woolworths with my Dad right before Christmas and while he was shopping he left me in the book department in the basement to browse. When he came back to get me I was avidly reading the book and disappointed to leave. As we reached the top of the stairs to the main floor my Dad abruptly stopped and told me he thought he had left something downstairs. He had me wait and being a child, I thought nothing about it (until later). On Christmas morning we were all done opening presents and my Dad disappeared into the kitchen and came back into the living room with the book that he had kept hidden in the cabinet over the stove. The book that I so wanted! One month after Christmas he had a massive heart attack at home and did not survive. I was 11 years old. I am now 73 and still have and treasure that book.

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  29. Rhys, your story reminds me of the year I desperately wanted a tape recorder. I talked about it for months and my Dad made sure I got one. Oh, the songs I recorded from the radio!! As the years pass, it reminds me of Dad's live

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