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The world's best gift giver

At a recent dinner gathering the host asked me to name my best Christmas gift ever. Without hesitation I selected the John Deere tractor that my grandfather gave me when I was still too short to reach the goodies stacked on Grandma's dining room table.

The tractor was too big to wrap and made of metal with pedals and I maneuvered it smartly, like Jeff Gordon mastering curves at Daytona, around furniture in the kitchen and dining room, unaware that my grandmother and mother might be wincing in the background, wondering which vase would soon require the bonding power of Super Glue, which didn't actually exist back then.

My grandfather was a world champion gift giver, ranking right up there with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who gave freedom to Filipinos, the American armed forces, who gave freedom to Europe, the Duke of Windsor, who gave away a throne to marry Wallis Simpson, Richard Burton, who gave a rock the size of Rhode Island to Liz Taylor, special interest groups, who've given lots of gifts to Congress, and Tiger Woods, who's about to give his soon-to-be-divorced wife enough money to buy Sweden and half of Norway.

One day Gramps surprised us with a pony, a black and white paint, just like Little Joe's on Bonanza, only smaller, and the fastest horse around. We named her Star because she had a star on her forehead, which was a little like naming a son John Smith, since there were probably only about 2.3 million horses named "Star" in that county alone.

"Why not call her Saddle?" I suggested, since she also had a white splotch on her back that looked a little like a saddle, but that suggestion didn't even make the primaries much less get voted on.

Another nice gift was a jar of glistening silver dollars, which I used to buy my first bicycle, a shiny red model that sometimes had fenders and sometimes didn't, depending on my mood, with baseball cards attached to the spokes to make it sound like a Harley Davidson. I was convinced that I had onlookers believing that my bike was motorized, which proves that I had either a wild imagination or Don Quixote's mental issues.

Gramps smoked a pipe filled with tobacco from a red can that fit in his front pocket. It had bearded guys on the label who looked a lot like the cough drop guys. You could smell the pipe's smoke anywhere he went for another 20 years, but that was back when you could smoke a pipe anywhere you wanted to except in church, at quilting, where he'd never be anyway, and by a gas tank. I wonder what kind of "grandpa smells" modern day kids will remember about their grandfathers, years from now. Then again, never mind.

Grandpa also gave us a piano, which took up a lot of space in the living room, forced me to take piano lessons, which I often didn't show up for, and caused me ample audio pain when my older sisters continued to play the same stupid song over and over. That was not his best gift.

"Can't you learn a new song?" I'd ask my sisters.

"Never mind," they'd reply. End of argument.

When I was 13 years old, Gramps gave me a journal and two years later he died. It was a very insightful gift, a message, from a man of few words.

After that he gave me another gift, when he was sick, as he watched me mow the grass out his back door, a job that he'd always done but no longer could. There was a look in his eyes that said everything I'd ever need to know. It was the same look my dad gave to my son and me a few years ago as he watched us board a plane to go back to Los Angeles after Christmas break. It too was a gift that said everything we'd ever need to know.

-- Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation's communications coordinator.