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When I discovered that I had absolutely no interest in “Black Friday” or any other shopping, I pondered when that happened. I loved shopping, especially for family and friends. But now I don’t. Of course, I never considered purchasing books as shopping … that’s browsing, and that is a selective process and is an ends itself. One can browse for half a day and purchase nothing at all.

My disinterest in shopping became clear to me at 4:14 this morning when it was too early to get up and too late to go back to sleep. As I day dreamed, I recalled Christmases past and remembered that none of the special gifts I received (or gave) had much to do with market value, but with fulfilling “dreams.”

I was nine years old and living with my great aunt in St. Paul. I figured it was because the city was large and there were so many lights that Santa found his way there but couldn’t find his way to my parents’ house in the forest. Oh, we got gifts, but Santa never appeared at our logging shack in northern Minnesota. But he actually landed on the house in St. Paul: I could hear the hoofs on the roof and sleigh bells. He didn’t come until children were asleep in their beds, according to Aunt Grace, so I never admitted that I heard him, and I acted surprised when I was awakened to meet him in the living room.

That was the year I wanted jodhpurs and boots. Everyone tried to talk me out of my request, but I was adamant. It didn’t matter that I’d never been near a horse, didn’t play polo and would probably be ridiculed at school. I wanted riding pants and boots. And Santa brought them. I was so thrilled that I wore them to stalk the geese in Newell Parks, convinced that I was in Africa, dressed exactly like a big game hunter, elephant gun (or maybe it was my ice skates) slung over my shoulder.

There were other memorable gifts, but none so anticipated and desired as those. Thoroughly as welcome, and habit- forming, was the gift of my very own book given to me at the Methodist Church in Effie, Minnesota, a town of 83 people. By this time, I was a sophisticated 7th grader, and “Five Little Peppers and How They Grew” seemed like a really grown up gift since it was the first book that was mine, and not the library’s or my friend Dee’s. I still have the book, or one just like it, along with several thousand others.

Perhaps the gift that I hold close to my heart for over 50 years, however, had little value to anyone but me. When she was three years old, my daughter placed a blue felt string in a jewelry box, wrapped it and gave it to me as a new bracelet. I wore it tied on my wrist every birthday for years. After having three sons, I told her that she was just what I’d ordered and that she was perfect. And she was, and still is as perfect as anyone could be, or should be.

Since it still wasn’t time to get up, I closed my eyes to recall the gifts I gave that were memorable. That was harder since we had a period when we spent a lot of time on what my eldest son termed “Mother’s Annual Production,” meaning cookie baking with all the family and sometimes their friends, cookie baking for an exchange with neighbors and friends, tree cutting, children’s concerts and plays, decorating inside and out and shopping.

My memories turned to earlier years when gift-giving was sparse; resources were even poorer because the jobs were scarce and my father drank, especially during the holidays. My mother loved chocolate- covered cherries. They cost 49 cents per box, and I saved to present them to her, not because I liked them, too, but because Mother always shared.

What I wanted the most was a bicycle and I shall never forget my older brother, who worked in the woods cutting timber by hand, saved up $19.95 and got me a bright blue Wards bike. Mother said it was too dangerous for me to ride a bike on the gravel road used by huge logging trucks to get the logs to International Falls and she made him take it back. I always adored my brother for trying. I may also have adored him because he was a magnet for older girls, who were nice to me to get his attention. Or maybe it was because, later, he was so handsome in his army uniform and we were so proud of those who served.

Perhaps that most reluctant gift “we” ever gave to a child was a two-foot high plastic mechanical dinosaur that roamed across the floor shooting ping- pong balls from its back. We tried to talk son #3 out of putting it at the top of his list, but he wouldn’t change his mind. And so history repeated itself: one person’s jodhpurs and boots are another person’s stegosaurus.

It’s time to get up and relish the early morning hours before Christmas. We are more aware than ever that the greatest gift was gracefully given, and is to be paid forward. So our family no longer gives and receives purchased gifts to each other, but invests in others. We are grateful for all that has been given to us: love shared, acted upon and remembered.

Audrey Cotherman lives in Casper.

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