Saturday, December 24, 2005

Feliz Navidad!

It's Christmas Eve and I'm working! This past week has been one of my busiest work weeks ever since this is the heaviest shopping time of the year. My editor says if I were a baseball writer, this would be my World Series. I had two stories in the paper today:

This one ran on the front page:

Shoppers starting to get a little desperate
By Blanca Torres
Dick Hogan knows an impulse gift when he sees one.
"It's like, 'What in the (heck) you'd buy that for?'" he said. "I get them every year, four sweatshirts or four packs of underwear."
Hogan admits he's a last-minute shopper, but said that when he does, he comes armed with a list to avoid falling into the impulse-buy trap.
Last-minute shopping during the holidays can lead to some irrational and impulsive behavior that often contributes to forced smiles on Christmas and long return lines the following week.

My editor said this one brought a tear to his eye:

Readers share stories about their most treasured gifts
By Blanca Torres
Some gifts are forgotten as soon as the wrapping paper hits the garbage can; others are cherished for years to come.
The Times asked readers to share stories about the best holiday presents they have ever received.
A cheap ride
One Christmas, Linda Middleton's father asked her to look in the driveway for her gift. She was 17, and, until then, she was used to receiving socks or a dress. Instead, she discovered a 1954 Ford sedan that cost her father $50.
"I looked out into the driveway, and I said, 'Oh, I wonder who's that is'?" said Middleton, who lives in Concord. "I had no idea the car was going to be there. It was such a shock."
The car was blue and beat up with slick tires and no heater when she received it, Middleton says -- and it got worse. The driver's-side door fell off, the sides were covered in streaks from hitting parking lot posts and the radio gave out. Driving the old car was a safety hazard on icy roads.
But despite the flaws, she was truly grateful for the gift.
"It was just fantastic to get the car," Middleton said. At the time, she lived in the suburbs of St. Louis and took three buses to get to class every morning at St. Louis University, which was in the city.
"I had never gotten anything that large from anybody," she said. "It was unbelievable that anyone would buy me something like that."
She kept the Ford for four years until she saved enough money to buy another car in 1962, but, she said, "It was never quite the same as that old car."
The same old tree
Each year, Dana Mentink of San Ramon pulls out an artificial Christmas tree the family has had for more than a decade. The tree is old and crooked, she says, but she loves it because it is a reminder of her best Christmas gift.
After two years of dating, Mike Mentink, then 33, proposed to Dana, then 24, under the tree.
"I've never seen him that nervous before or since," Dana Mentink said.
The tree has survived with the family through 11 years of marriage, two daughters and one attack by the family dog.
The Mentinks have considered upgrading to a pre-lit or more modern tree, but those would be devoid of meaning for Dana.
"The new ones are lovely, perfect, easy," she said. "But when I look at my crooked tree, I see years of joy, moments of sorrow and a tender promise of unconditional love from the most amazing man."
An old story
Kathie Johnston Brough, 57, of Livermore was 17 when her father, Glen Johnston, told her about a particular Christmas during his childhood.
Glen's parents separated in 1933, and he ended up moving to Utah with his father and two siblings. The holidays approached and Glen's father found himself without any extra money for holiday gifts or decorations.
It was a difficult time for 8-year-old Glen, because his mother was no longer a part of his life and his Christmas would have no tree, no gifts and no special meal.
On Christmas Eve, Glen's family was surprised to have a visit from members of the local Mormon church who brought gifts and food for his family, who were not members of the congregation.
"Hearing this story for the first time when I was about 17 years old was one of the best Christmas gifts I have received," Brough said. "My gratitude to those anonymous followers of Christ has made me strive each season since to give service during Christmas."
A new coat
Two years ago, Washington Davis, a retired Berkeley policeman, received a navy-blue winter coat from his girlfriend.
"It came with thought," he said. "It caught me off guard."
The coat matches his personality -- the color, the pockets, the fit -- "it's versatile."
"I could tell it took so much effort," Davis, 58, said. "It wasn't something you find on a regular shelf."
The coat has become one of his wardrobe staples for everyday use or ski trips.
"I've gotten gifts like sweaters -- gifts you never wear, gifts that end up in the closet," Davis said. "I have received no more than three or four gifts in my life that I actually wore."
A Christmas baby
The Hockel family of Walnut Creek was awaiting the birth of their sixth child, who was due on Christmas Day in 1978. Judie Hockel and her husband, Jack Hockel, had four sons and one daughter and were hoping for another little girl.
The family opened gifts and went to Mass before Christi was born that afternoon.
"It was nice we could squeeze having a baby in between all those activities," Judie Hockel said.
The baby was diagnosed with Down's syndrome, and "the challenges began immediately."
Judie Hockel was repeatedly told her daughter could never do certain things, such as attend college, learn to drive or get a job.
Christi, who turns 27 on Sunday, has done all those things and now lives in a studio apartment attached to her parents' home.
Through the years, Judie Hockel has fought to help her daughter live in the mainstream.
"Life with Christi is exactly what I needed to learn from her and from all the people we have met through her," Judie Hockel said. "It was a great gift, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."

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