CN+R staff remembers: A favorite Christmas present

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Kit Kittredge American Girl Doll

I remember every month, my mom would receive an American Girl doll store catalogue. I would spend hours flipping through the pages at the different dolls, each with their own, unique back story.

The doll I found myself drawn to was Kit Kittredge — a girl from Cincinnati growing up in the Great Depression.

Her dad lost his job, and her family was struggling to make ends meet. Kit wanted to make a difference in her family and community, so she moved to her attic to allow her parents to rent out her room to make some money, grew vegetables for her family to eat and she also wrote articles for her local newspaper about how the Great Depression caused poverty, hunger and homelessness in her own community.

She reminded me of my own great-grandmother (I called her Mom-Mom), who I had the privilege of knowing until she passed away when I was 13. Mom-Mom was (and still is) one of my heroes, and in a way, this doll was like having her around at all times. She was a teenager during the Great Depression in the foothills of Maryland, working hard to help her family make ends meet — just like Kit.

So when Santa gave me her doll for Christmas when I was eight-years-old — in the middle of the Great Recession ironically enough — I was ecstatic. I read all of the books that centered around Kit’s story, and I was inspired by the doll’s story of perseverance and drive. Kit has always held a special place in my heart. Maybe it’s her story. Maybe it’s the connection I felt to her in my relating the doll to Mom-Mom. Whatever it is, I hope I can be as cool as Kit Kittredge and Mom-Mom were.

- Taylor Heeden, reporter

Negamco Baseball

During my adolescent years, I was a sports nut. But after moving from a neighborhood of full of kids in Sanford to a tiny town in Kansas, suddenly finding a picking game was like putting your hands on a rainbow — a pretty elusive endeavor.

I’m not sure how I came across “tabletop” sports games, but sometime in 1976, at the age of 13, I did. These board games — which used dice, team and individual player cards and computer-generated ratings and formulas — allowed you to simulate real baseball or football or basketball games between real pro teams. The experience was light years ahead of duds like electric football and indulged my appetite for competition.

For Christmas that year, I asked my mom for the latest Negamco baseball game. It was the only thing on my list, so I knew I’d get it.

Or at least I thought I would. Inwardly I worried: what if mom forgot, or neglected to get it?

A week or so before Christmas Day, I did some snooping under the tree. Quite quickly I found a wrapped package with my name on it; given its shape and the sound it made when I shook it (remember shaking presents before opening them?), I was pretty sure this was the baseball game.

Mom worked third shift as a nurse and slept during the day, so on a whim I sneaked the present to my room and — careful to preserve the tape and not tear the red wrapping — opened it.

I was right: it was my beloved game.

Now what?

I’m sure I wasn’t the first child to snoop and sneak and peak. But then I broke all the rules by actually opening the box and playing the game. Christmas was just a few days away, right? What was the harm?

I’ll never forget that first game: instead of playing a game using my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, I chose the first two American League teams I came across once I got the game cards and parts out of the box — the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cleveland Indians. (I think I was assuaging my guilt by building in some delayed gratification by not playing a game involving the Pirates.) It was exhilarating — to choose a lineup, to spin the spinner on each at bat, to keep score on the real baseball scorecards the game provided.

I actually played five or six games that week and, to my horror, mom once walked into my room mid-game to ask me what I was doing. I played it cool and nonchalantly told her some fib (I can’t remember now what it was) and she said “OK” and walked away.

I think I finally ‘fessed up to opening the present early 10 or 15 years later, and she was aghast — and then laughed and laughed.

I played that game ceaselessly for a couple of years before adding other games (APBA Golf, Statis-Pro Basketball, Sports Illustrated football and more) to my collection, and even bought the best of all of these games — Strat-O-Matic Baseball, which rivals Dungeons & Dragons for its legion of hard-core devotees — for myself and my son Zach when he was a boy. But that Negamco baseball game — even in 1976, considered on the lower rung of tabletop simulation games — was gold to me.

- Bill Horner III, publisher and editor

What Christmas really means

Like most folks, through the years I’ve received many memorable Christmas gifts, including as a little boy a large toy service station, complete with cars, I played with for hours with my dad. Today there’s a family picture of that and when looking at it, immediately I’m five again. But as I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize my best gift isn’t a thing but an awareness — an awareness of what Christmas really means.

Sure, Christmas is full of many things — family, traditions, gifts, Santa Claus and more and they’re all fine — in the right perspective. The right perspective is there’s more to life than those things. To be honest, I haven’t arrived at the total understanding of all that but the journey is great. Just to be still and, like Mary about Jesus, to ponder the Ultimate is the gift that keeps on giving.

- Bob Wachs, columnist

My mom

My parents divorced when I was still very young, so most of my Christmas memories were with my mom and my three brothers. We didn’t have a whole lot growing up, but my mom somehow made sure we got everything we ever wanted for Christmas. I don’t remember a favorite gift because they were all so special — from Baby Alive, Chrissy dolls, Easy Bake Oven, and a kitchen set from Sears. My mom made everything so special, decorating the mantel with fresh holly, pine and candles. We would string popcorn and cranberries to hang on the tree along with the other ornaments and lights. Christmas Day was always very exciting to wake up and open our presents and to smell the delicious aroma of a big turkey cooking in the oven. My mom made each one special and for that, I thank her.

- Karen Pyrtle, business manager

White fur shoulder cape

Christmas, 1960. My wish list was complete and my Christmas allowance was used up!

The Grey House, a ladies clothing store on East Raleigh Street, put a Christmas Outfit in the window, topped by a “white fur” shoulder cape. Not only was it beautiful, but it would be a perfect match for the Junior-Senior dress that I was planning to make for the banquet (before proms). I never did not ask for it, but dad had to see how I admired it each time we rode by.

The day came when it disappeared from the window! (I was disappointed but never expected to get it anyway — of course, I could dream!)

Christmas, when presents were opened, shock wasn’t the word for it. Unbelief was more like it! Dad made my dream come true. It was perfect!!!

See why I always have been a “Daddy’s Girl”?

- Doris Beck, classifieds/obituaries news clerk

Nikon camera

The most memorable Christmas gift that I have ever received was a Nikon Coolpix 300 camera. The reason why this is my most rememberable gift is because this camera is what got me into photography and made me want to learn all about it. I was 15 years old when I got it and I can remember as soon as I got it, I went out and took so many pictures. Now I am in college at Randolph Community College and studying Commercial Photography and can’t what to see what I can do when I graduate.

- Simon Barbre, photographer

A UNC windbreaker

My grandpa, Charles Donnie Britt, died last year on Jan. 10. He was 85 years old.

A little less than two weeks before, I’d seen him for Christmas (along with my grandma) with my family. Each of us had isolated for the two weeks prior so we could safely visit him for what he repeatedly told us would “probably be his last Christmas,” after years of being in end-stage heart failure.

The week before I saw him, I went back and forth about the pros and cons of visiting him. Though I’d isolated, I still worried that I might expose him to COVID-19; we all knew, including my grandpa, that his compromised health made him at very high risk of catching and dying from COVID.

Just a few weeks from when he was set to get his first vaccine (which he was very excited about), he died from a heart attack at about 2:30 in the morning, with my grandma by his side.

In the grief that followed his death, I was so grateful I had made the choice to see him, and for one last time to see him, hug him and say, “I love you.”

In his final years, my grandpa was hard of hearing, even with his hearing aids. So our last conversations weren’t especially thrilling. We discussed my job, my application to grad school and his love for UNC Basketball. He told me he was proud of me, and he gifted me one last present: one of his old UNC (truly vintage) windbreakers, now too large for his ever-shrinking frame.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved scoring vintage and thrifted pieces. But this piece, given to me by my grandpa on the last day I’d ever see him, is by far my favorite.

- Hannah McClellan, education reporter and web editor

My first bicycle

My first bicycle was amazing and liberating. We put baseball cards in the spokes so the wheels would make flapping noises when I was flying down hills. Having a bike gave me so much freedom to explore places beyond my neighborhood with my sister.

- Kim Hawks, photographer

A ping pong table

My family and I have traveled to Boca Raton, Florida, for every Christmas that I can remember aside from last year. Each year, my uncle and cousins battle for the top ping pong player in the family I remember asking for a home ping pong table. It was the first gift I ever asked for. I’m not someone who often asks for anything so this gifts stands out. I wasn’t really expecting to get it, but when I walked into the basement with my parents, I was so excited that I immediately played a game with my dad.

-Max Baker, sports/social media intern

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