Herald readers share their stories of favorite gifts

Becky Von Rotz, Monroe

After Thanksgiving 2004, I was facing a very tough Christmas season. I had lost my son, Kyle, in 2001 and my husband of 34 years, Allen, had died earlier in 2004. Ten days after Allen died, our 1,000 square-foot shop had burned to the ground and I lost, among numerous other things, my Christmas decorations. I remember telling my friends that I was “skipping” Christmas that year. When I came home from work the Monday after Thanksgiving, I was shocked to find my house had been decorated inside and out! Due to the kindness of my very dear friends, I received my best Christmas gift ever.

Kevin Walker, Everett

I was 5 years old and it was my first Big Christmas. We had opened all the gifts and there was only this large brown box behind the tree. Whose is it, we asked? It was for me! I slowly opened the box and inside was a beautiful Lionel train set complete with a Figure 8 track. It was amazing, big and rugged! I played with that train for many years and gave it to my two sons when they were old enough, explaining how Grandpa had surprised me. Now their sons will receive this amazing train and carry it through the next generation.

Prudence Markley, Sultan

My wonderful Christmas gift was given to me 13 years ago. This gift was offered to me by a young teenager. Being 45 years old, my biological clock had ran out, but my dream of one more baby to complete my family remained. I accepted without hesitation. My special Christmas gift, a sweet baby girl, with dark feathery hair, long arms and legs, arrived just before Christmas. The miracle of this gift was that this teenager could have had an abortion to solve her problems; instead she gave me the gift of love.

Melody Ojala, Lake Stevens

Uncle Burton and Aunt Sarah have no children of their own but many nieces and nephews and one dog to spoil. At our large family gathering one Christmas Eve, Burton and Sarah chuckled as they passed around their gifts. Uncle Burton laughed and boomed out, “1-2-3… Open them all at the same time!” Simultaneously all five children and their mom and dad opened their gifts. A cacophony of unorchestrated NOISE erupted from a tambourine, harmonica, drum, horns and the dog howling. Mom and Dad laughed as they placed their gifts into their ears: Ear plugs. What a true JOY of giving.

Terri Kendall, Silver Lake

1968: I was 8 years old, Number four out of five children, and money was always tight. My Teeny Weeny Tiny Tears doll was my favorite toy and in October she went missing. I wracked my brain as to how I could have lost her. On Christmas morning, she was under the tree all decked out with a new wardrobe, including a beautiful christening gown made from an old lace lamp shade cover. Obviously, a tight budget forced my parents to “think out of the box” and get very creative with gifts that year. Best Christmas gift ever because she was lost and then found.

Dana Theodorsen, Lynnwood

This year I will have my family all together for the first time in eight years. My son had been on drugs for over 10 years and had been absent from all family holidays and gatherings. He has now been clean for a year. He is looking forward to being together with the ones who love him. He is my old son, a good caring young man I knew he always was. So my best holiday gift is having my long-lost son back with us on this day of both their births.

Roxanne Diss, Snohomish

The best presents are total surprises. Mine was in 2009. My daughter was working for a humanitarian organization in Africa for eight years. She was home in early spring, and her furloughs were usually a year or more apart. I sent gifts to Kenya knowing I wouldn’t see her for Christmas. Imagine my surprise when she stepped through the door and said “Merry Christmas, Mom!” I was laughing and crying at the same time. She had used all her air miles and four different flights totaling 33 hours to come home. It was the best hug and best Christmas ever.

Linda Finlayson, Everett

It was 1960. I was 12, soon to be 13 in February. I desperately wanted the Miss Deb “teenage” doll in the Montgomery Ward catalog. She had a pony tail, fancy blouse, black velveteen pants, high heels, and was the first doll jointed in 12 places. I pleaded with my mother, but she crushed my desire with: “You’re too old for dolls now.” When I opened the present on Christmas morning and saw it was her, I was so surprised I was speechless. Now I’m 64, soon to be 65, and I still have my Miss Deb doll.

Patricia McGuire, Woodinville

December, 1963: My 7-year-old daughter, Cathi, was released from brain cancer surgery and three months of cobalt treatments in San Diego. My bosses, the Atlas-Centaur program managers of General Dynamics-Astronautics, asked what they could give me and my children for Christmas. My co-worker told them all Cathi and my son Marc wanted was to see their grandparents in Nebraska. They gave us round-trip tickets to Omaha. We were to fly to Denver, have a layover of several hours in Denver, then go on to Omaha. San Diego was fogged in so we had to take a bus to Los Angeles and fly from there. Cathi was very weak from the bus trip but the United Airlines met us with a wheelchair, and said a couple, when asked, had given their straight-through flight to us and they would take our layover. We were met in Omaha by my parents and other relatives. The joy given to all of us that Christmas by bosses, co-workers and strangers was the best gift I have ever received.

Michele Cozad, Arlington

The best holiday gift greeted me on Christmas morning in 1960 under our family tree. “What was this big heavy box?” I thought while I ripped away at the paper. There it was, in all its pink-and-green glory, a new Smith-Corona portable typewriter! I had just started taking a class called “Office Machines” at Ballard High School and my dear late mother lamented me to “learn how to type and you’ll never be out of a job.” I became a master of hitting the “shift” key and “caps locked.” “Smitty” became my best friend. I wore out many ink ribbons and went through a lot of paper writing my daily diary, book reports and letters to friends and family. Several years later, I saw a classified ad for a “typist.” I applied and passed the test for “65 WMP” by doing an astounding 90 WPM and mistake-free. I typed away from the “typist” position to nearly 40 years later retiring as a business manager at an aerospace company. One day, my beloved green IBM Selectric with its many “typing font balls” was removed from my office. It was replaced with — A COMPUTER. I thought, “What a fad. This will never replace my old friend with its two-toned ribbon and happy jingle when I came to the end of a line.” Alas, it did: I called my new friend Dell. But I fondly remember my first best pal “Smitty” and thank him and my parents to this day for the gift that changed my life.

Vicki Dayton Reed Temple, Everett

I grew up in a family of all girls. I received many dolls as Christmas gifts. Yet, I always had a fascination for toy trains. A few years back, “Santa” — a.k.a my husband Bob — surprised me with a Lionel train. It came with a handwritten letter from Santa, stating he’d been searching many years for me. The envelope had my maiden and first married names crossed off. It was delivered to me with my current married name. Santa always comes through, even if it is 30-plus years late. The train has been under our Christmas tree every year since.

Carol Newman-Fisk

I was celebrating Christmas Eve with my boyfriend’s family and meeting some for the first time. My boyfriend handed me two packages. I opened the first one and my face turned the color of lawn flamingos. Guessing the second box might be the rest of a sexy little ensemble, I asked, “Do you really want me to open this here?”

Inside was a beautiful ring with a purple stone. Years later my husband Dennis asked me if I would like to replace it with a diamond ring. No, that Christmas gift was too meaningful. It was my engagement ring.

Julie Montgomery, Everett

When I was 13 years old in 1974 I wanted a stereo to play my records. I wanted it more than anything for Christmas but I knew my mom wouldn’t be able to get it. She was a single mom raising us five kids on her own. I gave up the idea until Christmas when I opened this big box and there my stereo. Mom made it happen (somehow). I cried I was so happy. I knew the sacrifice my mom had made for me. That day I vowed to be a mom just like her, so loving and caring.

Judy Kimball, Everett

Christmas of 2009 was a poignant one for us. You see, my dear husband, Larry, would be having open heart surgery in three months, and we were feeling the first pangs of anxiety as we prepared for this event. In our 13 years together I’ve learned so much from him about staying positive in the face of adversity. This was not his first major medical crisis, nor would it be his last. Back to Christmas… Larry being a “night owl” and me being an “early bird,” I was up at my usual 6 a.m. on Christmas morning and as I descended the dark staircase to the living room, my eyes caught the silhouette of something lined up in front of the tree. I flipped on the Christmas lights and, to my delight, I found all my shoes, polished and shined with a big red Christmas card in front of the shoes for me! Wow, now that’s love. Thank you, Larry, you are the best husband, and I feel so blessed to be your wife!

Sue &Gary Smith, Anacortes (formerly of Mukilteo)

One of our most memorable Christmas experiences occurred in 1979. We drove our fairly new motorhome to Disneyland. Our children were 17 and 12. We had a small tree with battery-powered twinkle lights glowing all the way from Everett to Anaheim, spending four magical days with each other, laughing, sharing and being close. The highlight was that we each had only $20 to purchase gifts for each other (from the various gift shops at the park). What fun we had while shopping and trying to dodge or hide from another family member we’d see doing their own careful shopping. The most memorable part was that, of all the more lavish gifts that were purchased over the many other years at Christmas time, many which have gone unremembered, were these small insignificant gifts to each other, all of which we remember and still cherish. We learned from that experience that it is never the monetary value of a gift that counts but all the pride shown and carefully given to each item on this Christmas. We returned home with a treasure chest full of family memories and the ever-special gifts!

Christine Awad Schmalz, Mukilteo

My favorite Christmas gift is the life of my oldest son who was born 3 months premature. Weighing in at 1 pound, 13 ounces, he underwent major heart surgery. After receiving surgery, my son then developed sepsis which is an infection in the blood stream that can kill a normal adult. Luckily we had a pediatrician that worked for the CDC in Atlanta to give the right antibiotics for a child this size. His chances of survival were 10 percent. By Christmas his odds of survival had raised sufficiently. Today my son, Jonathan, is a health young adult who celebrated his 30th birthday on Dec. 12. Jonathan (which means gift from God) is truly my best Christmas gift and a true Christmas miracle.

Thomas Munyon, Marysville

The best gift took many hands to provide. Around the 3rd of December, 1983, my ship, U.S.S. Camden, was anchored off Masirah Island, Oman, engaged in a reprovisioning evolution by an Airforce C-141, when the skipper got word from his wife that my mother’s breast cancer was terminal. She had three days to live, according to the doctor. Captain Waples told me to pack my seabag and catch a hop with the Air Force. Three days and 13 time zones later, I arrived home in Los Alamos and went directly to the hospital in my dress blues and bridgecoat. I walked into my mother’s room and she seemed to transform at the sight of me. She rallied to the point where the very mystified oncologist released her to go home for Christmas. A total of 19 relatives showed up for my mother’s last Christmas and she managed to live until mid-February of 1984. My mother took a lot of photos with her Kodak disc camera during those final days and labeled one print simply “Best Christmas Ever!”

Nancy E. Phillips, Edmonds

Several years ago my parents bought me a new upright freezer for Christmas. It wasn’t the gift so much (which was wonderful!!) but how my dad presented it. He took a shoebox, glued cardboard “shelves” inside it and taped pictures of frozen grocery items (turkey, ice cream, etc.) that he had cut out from newspaper ads to the shelves. Then he wrapped it all up in Christmas paper. It was so creative and just the best gift ever. I love you and miss you Dad (Harry Borylla) and am so glad you’re still with me Mom (Barbara Borylla).

Chuck Lauby, Everett

My gift came early this year. My daughter Alisa was pronounced cancer free Nov. 16 after discovering lymphoma cancer on her thymus gland. The operation was successful five years ago thanks to the skills of Providence and the chemo drug she endured for six months called R-Chop developed by City of Hope. My small office supply store belongs to the nation’s largest buying group, Tri Mega, who prompts our vendors to give funds to our favorite charity, City of Hope. So thank you Providence, City of Hope and Tri Mega.

Melany Haddock, Gold Bar

My best holiday gift I ever was given was one last Christmas with my mother. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few days after Christmas in 2008. A couple weeks before Christmas in 2009 she contracted a staph infection. All the family was told to come and say our good-byes as she was not to make it. After arriving with my boys she started to get better and a few days before the holiday she was able to go home. We had her for another six months before she passed. Needless to say we all appreciated that last Christmas.

Mrs. Alexander Kaminski, Everett

In 1954 we needed lots of prayers answered before Christmas. It was my hubby’s first year teaching at Everett High School and the move to here from Seattle had many hard situations. The worst was a necessary wait for a phone to be available. I worried I’d have problems arranging for the Seattle doctor and hospital for my baby’s birth.

But my wonderful Doctor said he would deliver him at noon Dec. 24 so we could enjoy Christmas. That worked out great! Leo was born safely and well. We had our Christmas celebration on the 25th at the hospital. Seeing the wonderful heavenly gift, all our fears were gone because of a promise. Leo is now 48 years old.

Barbara Mayville, Marysville

Two years ago, I lost my companion of 18 years. I was heartbroken and the house was empty and I hated going home. After a month I was ready to go to the shelter to find a cat who might like to go home with me. A few months earlier my girlfriend and I had been there, and she brought home an orange cat with personality plus. After much resistance from my girlfriend of visiting the shelter again, she told me I was ruining my birthday and Christmas gift. She had planned to give the cat to me. She had felt that she was to keep the cat until I was ready for another one, after the loss of my Frannie. So for Christmas, I brought Lilly home. They both rescued me, the house became brighter and the hole in my heart began to heal. It was the most unselfish gift that anyone has ever given me.

Thank you, Mary Ann. She is my treasured gift that I love each day.

Cynthia Turner, Everett

For Christmas a few years ago, I gave my now 89-year-old Mother a “memory box.”

I asked my sisters and brothers to send me a snippet of a favorite memory or event related to Mom; I typed them up, cut them into small strips and put them in a beautiful glass and brass box, tying it closed with a gold ribbon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my family, especially Mom, laugh so hard or sigh with remembrance quite so much! The gift was well timed; my father had passed away not long before the holidays. We all needed a good reason to laugh. As folks get older, their memories don’t always stay too sharp. This gift continues to give my Mom so much pleasure. She keeps it on her dresser. She only has to open it, pull out a slip of paper, and she is instantly taken back to a happy time!

Bille Ruth Schwartz, Everett

My best holiday gift was when my children were young and they made certificates stating they would do certain chores like wash dishes, vacuum, cook a meal, bake something, bathe the dog, babysit the younger siblings, etc.

Mary Peterson Clark, Monroe

Two of my favorite gifts at Christmas in 2008 were hand-made by two of my three children. My kids have always been crafty and love to make things with their own hands. Michael, my son, made me a beautiful oak wooden frame and it surrounded this beautiful scenic picture of a lake and mountains. Wood is jagged and entwined on the corners. On the wood, he wood-burned “Heaven-Place of Perfect Happiness.” My daughter, Terri, made me a beautiful photo album, green in color. She has a picture inside of me feeding her as a infant baby. Pictures of her and her brothers growing up through the years, also my grandchildren. Little flowers, Christmas lights are cut out on the pages, so very unique and colorful. She must’ve spent hours making this and I’ll always treasure it.

Latitia Jordan, Mountlake Terrace

In 1979 my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. Treatment followed but his health quickly deteriorated. My children and I flew home for Christmas to say our last good-bye. I was shocked to see Dad at 71 years with no hair and weighing about 100 pounds. Cancer had attacked his entire body. After Christmas dinner he returned to the hospital and within a few weeks, God took him home. Dad, I loved you so much and think about you every day. You were the greatest and taught me so much about life. I’m glad we could share that last Christmas together.

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