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Greatest Gifts: Christmas presents that stand the test of time recalled by Auburn-area residents

Gag Yule gifts make for mirthful presents but spirit of season comes in many forms
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Lita Dansereau’s memories of a gift her father worked hard every year in the Philippines to give to neighbors spur her to carry on that tradition annually. Dansereau said that her family lived in the poor part of San Marcelino and every Christmas, her father would take on extra work to earn money to buy food for needy families in the barrio. Now living in Auburn, Dansereau’s thoughts turn to that unselfish gift her father gave year after year. “My father passed away in 1996 and now I send my mother $1,000 to feed the people around her. We carry that on,” Dansereau said, shedding tears as she remembered the good works of her father. Gifts that come at Christmas arrive in all shapes and sizes. Some are cherished. Some are even spurned. But they’re all part of a Christmas experience that can create lasting memories. Auburn’s Barbara Crowell said she hadn’t thought much about it at the time but during the Korean War, she and her husband would bring along as many as three servicemen to her parents’ place in Los Angeles for Christmas. The guests, stationed at El Centro Naval Air Station, would have been on their own for Christmas. Crowell’s mother, who came from a family of eight children, always had room at the table for one – or two or three – more. “Whoever was around were always welcome,” Crowell said. “That’s carried on when our children would invite someone over. It’s just automatic.” Even the best intentions can sometimes go awry at Christmastime, Auburn’s Orville Jennings learned early on in his marriage. “I made a mistake and bought a pressure cooker as a Christmas present for my wife,” Jennings said. “It was too practical.” Tears were shed but the marriage survived, Jennings noted. He added that he also ran into problems early in his marriage when hunting season started and he was ready to head out the door. It turned out the first day of hunting season fell on his wife’s birthday. Mario Gregoire of Pilot Hill said that Christmas gifts don’t have to be expensive to be appreciated. He points to a flat of pansies as an example of a gift that was welcomed and will keep giving back – with color in the winter garden – for months to come. “It’s not necessarily what you receive or don’t receive,” he said. “We’ve gotten so commercialized. Even with cards, they’re not as important as realizing that someone thought enough of you to give you something.” And many people include animals on their gift list – whether it’s a bag of seed to throw to wild birds in the snow or a fresh bone for the family dog. Chenanne Wilson said that as a pot-bellied pig rescuer, she’s had as many as eight of the porkers on Christmas. That has meant a meal of specially cut veggies on individual plates. “We gave them all a special meal,” Wilson said. Wilson knows about the mirthful side of Christmas gifts as owner of Auburn’s Balloon Mama’s Wild & Wacky Gifts. In the face of an economic downturn, people want to laugh at Christmas through gag stocking stuffers, she said. Popular Balloon Mama choices this year included an inflatable fruitcake that could be mailed flat in the provided envelope – solving any regifting challenges. “People are looking for something to laugh about,” Wilson said. “One customer said she had the funniest Christmas ever last year after coming here as family members opened up gag stocking stuffers throughout the day.”