There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of Christmastime for kids.
Mysterious packages, festooned in sparkly paper and bright ribbon, sit, silently taunting. Time slows down to a crawl. Christmas can’t get here quickly enough.
Then, a jumble of emotions come to a head: Anticipation. Anxiety. Excitement. Surprise! Giddiness! Relief. And, sometimes, disappointment.
We asked Clive residents to revisit the past and share their favorite childhood Christmas gifts they received. Some still have them today. Some lost track of their gifts over time.
But the intangible memories remain, for some, as vividly as if they’d received the items just yesterday.
There’s a gleam in their eye, and their voices are tinged with excitement and nostalgia as they recall the times they spent riding that bike, playing with that long-awaited doll or circling a roller skating rink in new skates.
And just as special, they say, are the holiday memories of family, and their love and generosity.
The gift of time with a parent
Lori Nicolet still has the book about stamps her dad gave her for Christmas when she was about 12.
“It was one of his interests that he wanted to share,” Nicolet says.
But it was what he wrote in the book, and what was associated with it, that make it her favorite Christmas gift of all time. The note was giving her 20 hours to spend with her dad, just the two of them.
It was a precious present to have one-on-one time with him in a family with five siblings, Nicolet says. “We went running and bike-riding.”
Her father’s heartfelt gesture helped shape how she celebrates Christmas with her own children.
“We try to make Christmas more of a personal experience, not so much a gift experience,” she says.
That 10-speed Huffy
It was the last present. Brian Nelson was probably 10 when his parents surprised him by rolling the 10-speed Huffy bicycle into the room, he reminisces.
“I was really excited. I went out Christmas Day and rode it,” says Nelson.
He rode it everywhere — to the pool, school and his relatives’ homes.
“I pretty much wore it out,” Nelson says.
While that Huffy may be long gone, Nelson’s childhood love of bike-riding still remains.
It’s been about 35 years since Teri Nelson received her Legos at Christmastime.
They were one of her favorite presents as a kid. And now her own children are getting the chance to enjoy them.
“They’ve held up; they’re classic,” says Nelson, who has a 10-year-old son, Max, and a 13-year-old daughter, Ava.
They’ve since added more pieces to her original collection, she says, and Max still has fun creating things out of the Lego bricks.
Before Nelson had kids, she decided to keep the Legos, thinking they would be great toys to pass along to her future children.
“I thought that they were that good — and quiet,” she smiles.
As her children grow up and have their own families, Nelson hopes they’ll build their own memories of playing with the Legos with their kids.
“We’ll keep them for the grandkids,” she says.
The gift of family
Jennifer Durick had given up on getting the Cabbage Patch Kid she’d been asking for for a couple of years.
Then came that special Christmas. She was 9 or 10 when she finally got her wish.
Being older didn’t dampen her enthusiasm for the doll, Durick says.
“It was wrapped up in a black garbage bag with a big bow,” she remembers. “And I opened it, and I was so excited because I had waited so long for it. I knew it was an extravagant gift for our family, so I appreciated it.”
The doll was a constant companion.
“I carried it all the time. It went with me everywhere I went,” says Durick.
But, she adds, she really has two favorite childhood Christmas presents — the other is her family.
Her memories of Christmases growing up in Illinois are filled with spending time with her large, extended family at her grandparents’ homes, the scent of pies baking and playing dice games.
“When you’re older, you don’t even remember the gifts,” Durick says. “It’s the people.”
A pair of skates, and an outfit, too
Barbara Hendrickson brings out the roller skates she’s held onto for years. They are hefty, grayish-white with age, and the stopper on the right skate is gone.
The story behind them is one of her favorite Christmas memories, Hendrickson says.
Originally from the Bronx in New York, Hendrickson was a young girl who went to the roller skating rink a lot with her friends. When she was 12, her parents gave her a set of skates for Christmas, along with an outfit.
The skating skirt had black velvet on top, she recalls, with red, satin-like lining underneath. A pullover sweater completed the ensemble.
“I was totally overwhelmed with the excitement of it,” Hendrickson says.
But here’s the irony, she says. Not long after getting the skates, the skating rink closed. There weren’t many opportunities to wear them after that. The last time she put them on was in the late 1970s.
As their three kids grew up, she tried to instill in them an appreciation and enjoyment for skating, and went to Skate West in West Des Moines quite a bit, Hendrickson says.
Though the use of her skates was unexpectedly cut short, the memories associated with them remain strong after all these years: The organ music playing at the skating rink, and the lighted sign letting skaters know when it was a couple, all-girl or all-skate. And she’ll never forget the love and generosity behind her parents’ gesture.
Finally getting that BB gun
The photographs from the Christmas Gordon Hendrickson was 12 are ones he particularly remembers.
That was the year he got a BB gun. His brother got an electric train.
There they were, the seven kids in his family, sitting in the living room, around the Christmas tree, Hendrickson recalls — he, holding his BB gun, and his brother with his train.
“It (the BB gun) was always on the wish list for kids on the farm,” says Hendrickson, Barbara Hendrickson’s husband, Gordon, who grew up in western Wisconsin, used the gun to shoot sparrows around the farm and for target practice.
He had the BB gun for about four or five years, then lost track of it after that, he says.
Just as memorable as the gift was the childhood anticipation of Christmas every year, and the large, traditional meal that accompanied the holiday, Hendrickson says. He also fondly recalls awaiting the big box of treats from his father’s sister, who lived in Milwaukee.
It was typically one of the last presents they would open, he says, and would include Pfeffernusse, a spice cookie covered in powdered sugar.
A request for a special doll, granted
Dawn Scott had been wanting a Cabbage Patch Kid for months, and finally got one at Christmas when she was about 3 or 4.
“Even though I wanted it, it was still a surprise to finally have one,” Scott says.
Her memory is a little fuzzy when it comes to some of the doll’s details, but she knows she spent much time with it.
“The doll had blonde hair and blue eyes, and wore a dress, I think,” she says. “If it had a name, I do not remember it. I remember thinking it was funny that there was the maker’s signature on the doll.”
Sometimes she’d pretend it was her baby. Other times it was her friend.
“I know I played with it a lot,” she says.
Scott doesn’t have the doll with her at her home in Clive. But, Scott says, it may be sitting in her parents’ home in a storage tote.
From all of us at Clive Living, Merry Christmas!