News & Reviews

The Best Gifts We’ve Given

It’s the holidays! A time filled with gifts, and because it is better to give than receive, we’ll start by sharing the best gifts we’ve ever given.

My son is a huge Wilco/Jeff Tweedy fan who also went to school (college) with Tweedy’s son Spencer. Recently I bought Tweedy’s new book How To Write One Song and got the author to autograph it for my son. The look on my son’s face was worth the maneuvers it took to make that happen!

Soon Har

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I gifted my mom a house! Just kidding. I’m poor. I can’t even afford a house of my own. The best gifts aren’t the large and elaborate gifts, they’re the small personal gifts. They are the gifts that are perfect for the person they are intended. I, personally, don’t love the pressure of gift giving during the holidays. I’m more of a “oh my gosh, this would be perfect for so and so” spontaneous gift giver. The best gift I’ve given was a set bed sheets for, yes, my mother.

Growing up, my mom went to the school of “just buy the cheapest option available.” When you don’t have a lot of disposable money, sure, that works, but the concept of “you get what you pay for” was, and often still is, lost on my mother. When she asked for a ‘nice’ set of bed sheets but, and I quote, “not silk, or satin” I knew exactly what to get her. A set of bed sheets made from bamboo fiber. I have a set and they are amazing. She still raves about them! No more sandpaper bed sheets from the local big box retailer.


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When I was a younger man, I spent a good deal of time traveling across this great country of ours, sometimes on a motorcycle, sometimes in a car or train or bus. Always seeking adventure wherever I could find it, sometimes alone and sometimes with company, both good and poor. One way or another, I’ve managed to visit every state in the union…except Hawaii…it’s very difficult to drive there. I’ve met a lot of interesting people along the way and most of them have been very kind to me. I’ve always tried to “pay forward” any kindnesses that have been shown to me, and you never really know how or when these gestures of kindness will reveal themselves. Traveling has always reinforced my belief that people are basically good and they’re pretty much the same, no matter where you go in the world.

Once, on a journey to Colorado, my car broke down in the middle of nowhere…Kansas to be exact. I was alone and not sure what I was going to do, when I spotted a farm house far off in the distance. I hiked through their muddy field and up to the house, hoping to use their phone…this was before cell phones. Before I had a chance to knock on the door, it opened and a lovely older couple stood there, looking me up and down. In retrospect, they were probably about the age I am now, but they seemed “old” to a 20 year old. For a second, I wasn’t sure if my presence there was welcome or not. I spoke first, I said hello and gave them a brief explanation of my situation and without a second thought, the man opened his mouth and said, “Well, I guess we better go get your car off the road.” ”OK?” I thought. “This is a no nonsense guy I’m dealing with here.” So we walked out to his truck and I directed him to my broken down heap of a car. We quickly had it chained up to the back of his truck and dragged it back to the farm. Then he said, “Well, it’s getting kinda dark, it’d probably be best if you stayed here tonight and we’ll see what we can do about your car in the morning.” These people were very kind and unassuming. They welcomed me into their home, fed me and gave me a bed to sleep in. The woman said, “You can sleep in here tonight, it’s our son’s room…you’re probably about the same age.” I could tell that, from the posters he had on his walls. I said, “Oh, your son? Is he away at college or something?” The woman’s posture changed and she got a sad look on her face. I said, “Oh, I’m sorry…did I say something wrong?” Then she apologized back to me and said, ”No, it’s just that our son…well…we’re not sure where he is. He disappeared a couple weeks ago and we’re not sure why. We don’t know if he ran off or if something bad happened to him.” I said, “Wow, I’m really sorry to hear that…I’m so sorry.” She just turned quietly and wished me good night. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I woke up around 9 o’clock the next morning…early for me, but not for farmers, apparently. The woman said, “Mornin, I kept some food for you warming on the stove, we didn’t want to wake you…we’ve been up for hours.” I ate my delicious breakfast and asked about the man. She said, “Oh, he’s out there fiddlin around with your car.” I walked out to find that he had my car running again…farmers are very handy at fixing things themselves. He told me, “I got her running, but it’s just a quick fix. You should take her into town and have the mechanic give her a look.” I agreed and thanked him. I tried offering him some money, which he refused, and then I walked inside to say goodbye to the woman. I guess she already knew that I’d be on my way, because she had packed some food for me to take along. “What lovely people”, I thought. I thanked her for her hospitality and told her that I best be moving on. She said, “Wait, you’re not leaving without a hug, it wouldn’t be right.” She embraced me in a way that my own mother never had. I hugged her back and I kind of didn’t want to leave. These people, these strangers, were kinder to me than my own family had ever been. Just then, the man walked in, offered me his hand and wished me luck.

As I drove off, I couldn’t help thinking how lucky I was to meet such wonderful people and I wished there was something more I could have done to repay their kindness.

Anyway, I made it to town, which was a considerable distance from the farm. I found the mechanic and he said he could have my car fixed up in no time at all. As he explained to me what was wrong, he commented, with admiration, at the farmers repair job. He said, “Yeah, those farmers can be pretty darn resourceful. They have to fix stuff around the farm all the time and usually can’t afford to pay someone else to do it for them.” I said, “Yeah, he was a pretty amazing guy.” He reminded me a lot of my own grandpa… he didn’t say much, but he was kind and could fix almost anything. I wandered around a bit, to let the mechanic do his job and in no time at all, he said my car was fixed. I asked him if he would fill it up with gas for me and then I would settle my bill. Before I headed out, I asked him if I could use the restroom and he told me it was around back.

As I walked around back, I noticed a guy sitting on the curb, against the wall, hugging his knees up against his chest. He looked cold, even though it didn’t seem very cold to me. I nodded to greet him, he nodded back and then I went about my business. When I came back out, I asked him, “Are you ok?” He said, “No, not really.” He said he’d been hanging with these guys that he thought were his friends, but they beat him up, took his money and dumped him out behind this gas station last night. He said he’d been sitting up against this wall all night trying to figure out what to do. I said, “Man, that’s tough. Are you from around here? Can you walk home?” He said, “Well, I don’t live too far from here, probably 10 or 15 miles. I could probably walk it if I had to, but when they threw me out of the car, I hurt my knee and I can barely stand, let alone walk anywhere.” I told him my car was good to go and I could give him a ride home, since it wasn’t that far. He said, “Naw, they don’t wanna see me.” I said, “Oh, well maybe I could drive you into town, maybe there’s someone there that can take a look at your leg and get you fixed up. It’s the least I can do, before I get back on the road. I can’t just leave you here, it wouldn’t be right.”

So I settled my bill with the mechanic and pulled my car around back and helped him in. As we pulled into town, I noticed him eyeballing this little restaurant as we passed by. I said, “Oh, are you hungry? Let’s go in and get something to eat.” He said, “No, I don’t have any money.” I told him not to worry about it. As we sat and ate, I asked him about this and that, without trying to be too nosey or asking about things that were none of my business. He told me about these “friends” of his and how they weren’t really his friends, they were guys he worked with and they were gonna go on this big adventure and how none of the things they talked about ever happened and these guys just turned out to be jerks who took advantage of him. I said, “Wow, why don’t you just go home, I’ll bet your parents miss you.” Anyway, they’d wanna know that you’re safe.” He said, “No, they wouldn’t want to see me. I’ll bet they’re really mad at me for running off like that without saying anything. I’ll bet they’re good and mad at me.” I said, “Yeah, they probably are mad at you. But, I’ll bet they’ll be happy you’re home and that you’re safe. Come on; let me take you home, you said it’s not far, right?” As we drove, he directed me where to turn. All those country farm roads look the same. But then, I got this feeling that things kind of looked familiar somehow and then on our final turn, I saw a familiar farm house and I got a really strange feeling that I can’t quite explain. I said to him, “This is your house?” He said, “Yeah, I know it’s not much. It kinda sucks being a farmer. I kinda hate it, actually. That’s why I wanted to leave and have some adventure.” I said, “Yeah, adventure can be good, but it’s better when you have a home to return to when it’s done.”

As we pulled up to the house, the man and the woman came out. I got out of the car and we all gave each other very confused looks…and then, my passenger got out and the confusion turned to tears of joy! And that was the best gift I’ve ever given…


PC Clerk

My husband and I married in Italy. Ongs’ are not easy to please. Nevertheless, I booked a tour to the Colosseum for the dozen of us which included my parents, four of five siblings, a cousin and his parents, another cousin and his husband. We walked there together from the B&B, five-minutes away. Underground, up close, we saw the arena where gladiators fought; the door trap and lift, where the animals were led. Above ground, we took in its massiveness; then strolled to take in breathtaking views of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Watching my loved ones enjoying themselves, I knew I hit Ong Gold.


Public Services Librarian

My extended family has dropped the habit of giving gifts to the adults, and it has been this way for about 11 years now. We all have what we need! December so much more peaceful this way! I look forward to the annual year-in-review letters and spending time together when possible. Maybe I’m just a poor shopper, but I believe the best gift I ever gave anyone, besides cash, was the gift of my time to my mom. She’d make a chore list for my visits, about once a month, and we’d work our way through it. I’d take her out to lunch or dinner, maybe we’d also have a game or a performance to see, or maybe we’d just watch tv and read after dinner. Mom was never the easiest person to live with, but these 2-day visits were good for both of us as we got older.


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