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Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Christmas past

Local senior citizens recall best presents ever

By Margie Wuebker

Irma Oldiges checks out presents under the tree at Heritage Manor Nursing Center. . .

Irma Oldiges scoots her wheelchair closer to the tree at Heritage Manor Nursing Center in Minster and picks up a box bearing red and gold paper. She gives it a gentle shake, knowing full well there is nothing inside.
"We didn't have fake presents when I was a kid," she says with a sigh. "Presents were few and far between back then."
Amedee and Clara Didier of Russia sprang into action as soon as their eight children headed to bed on Christmas Eve, retrieving gifts from hiding places around the house and barn. Once everything had been placed beneath the tree, they tiptoed to bed for what would be a very short night.
"The best gift I ever received was a beautiful doll with quite a respectable wardrobe," she says. "Santa brought her for me and my three sisters to share."
Maria Stein resident Bonnie Leugers recalls getting clothes each Christmas and looking forward to showing them off when classes resumed after the holidays.
"The clothing was nice, but I still remember the year my father made us a toboggan," she says. "Dad hooked it to the car and slowly drove up and down country roads near home. We came in cold but happy."
Art Leugers received his most memorable gift at the age of 8 - a shiny, red coaster wagon complete with built-in bumpers.
"It was one of the fanciest wagons in these parts and I was so tickled," he says with a proud smile. "I still use the wagon to bring out the trash each week. It still looks pretty good, but I wonder what on earth I ever did with the bumpers."
Johanna "Johnny" Marbaugh, a resident of The Gardens at Celina, doesn't need time to think when asked about her best Christmas gift.
Packages beneath the tree that year yielded the usual round of pencils, paper, a puzzle or two, animal crackers and tangerines. Then her father, Maria Stein farmer Henry Streacker, suddenly remembered something he had to do in the barn. He returned minutes later with a frisky puppy in tow.
"Pal was a German police dog," Marbaugh explains. "He proved to be a good watch dog by keeping hobos out of our yard. They took one look at him and kept on walking."
Pat Wright, who also lives at The Gardens, never expected a mound of presents when one or two more than satisfied her desire.
She remembers being delighted by a story book about children organizing a band - the ideal gift for a 6-year-old just learning to read.
"I loved that little book and the red glen plaid jumper my mom made," she says. "I felt as if I had received the whole world in those two boxes."
Fellow resident Marion Claxton never wrote a letter to Santa Claus asking for an electric train and had no idea what was in the heavy box bearing his name.
"I guess I stared at the trains in the store window one too many times because my parents certainly got the idea," he says. "The box contained a Lionel locomotive complete with 25 cars and an honest-to-goodness caboose. I wanted to run it beneath the tree but Dad was scared it would snag the lights and cause a fire."
Volunteer Donna Snyder remembers receiving "the best gift in the world" - a pen expressly designed for taking shorthand.
"I was a junior in high school and that's all I wanted," she says. "I ate and drank shorthand. It must have paid off because I later got a job at the agriculture department taking shorthand from all three agents."
Excitement dances in the eyes of Gladys Harris, who at 99 is the oldest resident of The Gardens. She remembers unwrapping a large box containing a baby doll measuring nearly a foot from head to toe.
"She had wavy hair and a real silk dress," Harris says listing the doll's many attributes. "I could even move her hands and legs. Oh my, she was perfect in all respects."
The doll was a treasure - one she kept away from her four brothers.
"Christmas morning was the only day my parents did not have to call us to get up," Harris says with a giggle. "I think we crawled out of bed long before daybreak and the presents were fair game."
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