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Christmases past better than presents

The best thing about Christmas? Easy: the memories, those Yuletide snapshots (both actual and mental) collected over the years, more precious than any gift. Except maybe a new black Chevy Colorado extended-cab pickup, fully loaded. But I guess it's too late for subtle hints.

Writing a Christmas Day column has made me reflect on some of those memories - like the first Christmas my wife and I were married, in 1983. We lived in a small apartment carved from a drafty Victorian whose only heat source was a pair of wall-mounted, open-flame gas furnaces. Each winter, we faced the age-old dilemma: Do we freeze to death, or just burn down the house?

While visiting family overnight on Christmas Eve, we left the heaters unlit, lest we return to find only cinders. That night, the temperature dropped into single digits. When we came home the next day, the water in our toilet bowl had frozen solid. But at least our presents were intact - not to mention everything else we owned.

Another memorable Christmas was 1986, about six months before my daughter was born. As my parents' first grandchild, she had been eagerly awaited since approximately the day after our wedding.

We knew my wife was pregnant by Thanksgiving but decided not to announce it until Christmas. That way, we thought, we would still get presents for ourselves and not for the baby.

Since we were going to be at my folks' house on Christmas Day, we found a creative way to break the blessed news: a pacifier wrapped in a large gift box. The grandparents-to-be were suitably delighted, although my dad did feel a bit sheepish afterwards about his present to me, a book entitled "The Birds and the Bees for Dummies."

Then there was Christmas 1990, when my oldest son was 18 months old. I bought him a toy basketball goal designed, according to the box, "for ages 3 and up." My wife thought I was crazy. "He's not big enough to shoot it in the basket," she said.

On Christmas morning, he walked into the living room, saw the goal (which I had put together the night before), picked up the ball, and took his first shot. Swish! Score one for Dad.

Since then, we've had many wonderful Christmases, but I think my favorite is this one. My daughter is home from college for the first time since August. My three basketball-playing sons - the sharp-shooting toddler now a high school junior - have some time off, giving Mom and Dad the best gift of all: a few days of not running from game to game. Mostly, we're just happy to be together.

I hope you, too, are together with those you love today, sharing happy memories and making more. And I wish you a very Merry Christmas - even if you didn't get a new pickup truck.

E-mail Rob Jenkins at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.