On Black Friday, Times staffers shared recollections of the best gifts they ever received. Remembrances ranged from longed-for toys to memories of loved ones. That exercise got us thinking about what Christmas means to each of us. For some, it was hard to pick just one memory. So, we put the same question to you, our readers: What's the best gift you've ever received? Here are two of our favorite responses, in our readers' own words.
Eighteen years ago, my father gave me a gift that I will cherish forever. He had owned service stations throughout Tampa during my childhood. When times were tough, customers would often ask him if they could pay for their repair bills or even gasoline with things other than cash. One of the customers bartered a ring, a very period 1970s ring. It was gold nuggets in the shape of a panther.
My father took the ring to the jeweler across the street to be re-sized to fit his large fingers and even still it only fit his pinky. That night, the jewelry store had a terrible fire. There were only a few items that remained unscathed. My father's new ring was one of them.
I will never forget the first time I saw it. I was 6 years old. I seemed to notice it on my father's finger all the time, at dinners, around the house, the frequent times we went fishing but especially when I rode with him in his wrecker truck. He wore it on his right pinky finger. When he would shift gears, I could not take my eyes off of it. More than once, I told my dad "When I get older, I want to buy that ring from you." He would turn to me, smile and say, "One day." Time went on, and I grew up, moved out of the house and the ring faded from my thoughts. I almost forgot about it until Christmas, 1993. That year, my dad gave me the ring. I was 25. The memories of the times with my dad, the times we spent driving in the wrecker together, fishing together and the time we spent together as father and son came flooding back to me.
My dad died in August of 2006. Looking back, I realized it wasn't the ring that was the gift. It was all that came with it. I know that's what my father was telling me when he would smile and say, "One day."
Christopher Codispoti, South Tampa
Christmas, 1952, would be "different," my parents gently explained; no towering tree, no piles of presents under it. Our beautiful new home in St. Petersburg had taken a toll on savings. And it was substantially unfurnished, the dining table a sheet of plywood on two sawhorses, the living room essentially empty. Deficit financing was a no-no.
I was crushed. At 12, I dreamed of a new Barbie, plus the usual sugarplum trimmings.
As the day approached, my dad began shaping a piece of hog wire retrieved from construction debris, forming a broad half circle before the bay window. Through its gaps, he wove boughs of fragrant fresh pine cut from trees on the property. He called it our Christmas bower.
I pouted, unimpressed.
On Christmas Eve, the bower stood a good 6 feet high and 8 feet wide, bright with colored lights, heavy with family ornaments, a re-imagined marvel of traditional splendor showing through the undraped window. The next morning, nestled among its boughs, were several small packages: a lavish new wardrobe for my "old" Barbie, silky lingerie and smart dresses, pedal pushers with matching blouses, a formal ball gown. Each was hand sewn, perfectly sized, Barbie exquisite. For keeping her finery, there was a gorgeous wooden "closet box" with hooks and shelves, smoothly varnished, finished with a locking clasp.
There would be more Christmases, with meals served on damask amid tinkling crystal, gleaming silver, fine china, as Champagne flowed and bounties of presents were passed. But none would be as memorable, as life altering as that "different" one decades ago, when I began to learn of precious gifts, individually tailored, selflessly offered, from our own unique wells of creativity.
Melody Jameson, Ruskin