Christmas isn’t just about presents. We all know this.
But sometimes a gift means more than the thing itself. Sometimes it brings back memories — of a carefree childhood or a beloved family member.
Tucked in the backed of our closets or packed away in attics, we keep some of these mementos from the past. We asked locals to share their stories about the oldest Christmas gift they still have and how it’s managed to stay intact throughout the years. And just as we guessed, these gifts aren’t particularly spectacular or flashy, but their stories are.
‘It’s the memories’
Aubrey Summers was 4 years old when she received a stuffed hound dog with droopy felt eyes and floppy furry ears one Christmas morning.
“He had a collar around his neck and that became his name, Collar,” said Summers, who is now 32 and lives in Niceville.
From that morning on there was an unbreakable bond between Summers and her stuffed pup. Collar went everywhere with her; to school, to the fair and even on road trips. Summers remembers one trip to Michigan to visit her grandfather. During a pit stop, Summers set Collar down and accidentally left him behind.
“I was crying my eyes out so my family turned around and luckily the store had him,” Summers recalled.
Over the years, Collar has needed some cosemtic touch-ups. Summers remembers when his little red felt tounge fell off. When her mother attempted to fix it, she was able to successfully reattach the tounge, but super glued her fingers together in the process. You can still see the white residue from the glue around the dog’s mouth.
“She did a great job, though, because after all of these years his tongue remains intact,” Summers said.
As she got older, Summers eventually grew out of her childhood belongings, but she never got rid of Collar. Since her dad passed away, Collar is even more precious to Summers now.
“It’s the memories behind him,” she said. “The people that gave him to me. I like that my mom and dad picked him out for me.”
Summers tried to pass Collar on to her own daughter, but his puppy-dog eyes didn’t work on the 11-year-old.
“I have no intentions of getting rid of him,” Summers said. “I’ll be keeping him for the next 28 years.”
Tiny Tears through the years
Christmas 1970 was the year then-6-year-old Angela Campbell was gifted her Tiny Tears doll named Sally. After 47 years, the doll has traveled all over Europe, made a military move “across the pond” and brought joy to Campbell’s daughter and now granddaughter.
“She’s as good today as the day I got her,” Campbell said. “My twin sister also got a Tiny Tears doll that year. Her baby lost and eye and had surgery at the then-London Doll’s Hospital. Unfortunately she came back with a new head and was never thought of the same.”
Campbell said she was secretly thrilled that her Sally was kept intact.
“As a twin I’m very competitive, and when my sister’s doll lost its head, mine was automatically the best,” Campbell said. “She was so precious to me, and I knew that I wanted my daughter to share the same joy she gave me.”
At 6, Campbell believed strongly in Santa Claus. She said she never wanted for anything, except a dog. (She now has three.). Sally has endured through the years and she’s the one tangible piece left of Campbell’s childhood. She remembers when she and her husband retired back to Navarre after years overseas that he preached about the “weight allowance” they had.
“There was no way Sally was staying behind,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s daughter eventually became a caretaker for Sally. Like Campbell, she liked to make clothes for the doll, which became a love of crafting.
“Of course, as she got older and left home for college she didn’t quite share the bond that I did,” Campbell said.
Today, Sally is still at home with Campbell in Navarre. She jokes that a lot of people who know her professionally would be surprised to hear about her sentimental story.
“I think deep-seated, we all have a fondness for the era we grew up in,” she said. “And no self-respecting English girl didn’t have a Tiny Tears doll.”
‘Aged and played hard together’
Growing up in Lowery, Alabama, Joe Johnson remembers not having a television until about 1966.
“As far as watching TV, we’d have to walk to the neighbor’s house about a half-mile away,” he recalled. “Sometimes, I’d ride on the crossbar or handlebar of my brother’s bicycle and we’d watch the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ or wrestling on Channel 4.”
Wrestling was a passion of Johnson’s, but his four older brothers wouldn’t be his opponent. His ultimate playmate was a teddy bear he received for Christmas in 1959. He was just about 4 years old.
Whatever Johnson happened to catch on TV was then reinacted with his stuffed bear called “Teddy.”
“He was always the heel or the villian,” Johnson said. “He was my rough and tough companion. When wrestling, I’d always body slam him. Mom would always have to stitch him back up.”
Johnson joked that Teddy was a perfect companion because he never complained. As he grew older, he even learned to sew so that he could stitch up Teddy himself.
Johnson didn’t become a pro-wrestler, but he did become a chiropractor in 1979 alongside his brother at a practice in Paxton.
“I can’t help by think about stitching up Teddy when I’m fixing and patching up professioal wrestlers,” Johnson recalled with a chuckle.
When he was too old to wrestle with Teddy, Johnson’s mother saved it in a chest of drawers. Now, his grandchildren play with Teddy, but in a much different way.
“They’re real gentle with him,” he said. “They like to cuddle him and hear they stories. … They just think it’s the most darling thing.”
“We’ve aged and played hard together,” he added. “Teddy earned his retirement.”
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