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Updated Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 12:31 AM

Kids, bikes, veal balls: Locals recall best gifts they ever got

By Nicole Brodeur
Seattle Times staff columnist

Film critic Roger Ebert once referred to the "Rosebud" sled in Orson Welles' epic film "Citizen Kane" as "The emblem of the security, hope and innocence of childhood, which a man can spend his life seeking to regain."

In that spirit, I spent the days before Christmas asking people to define their "Rosebud," by telling me about the best Christmas gift they ever received — and maybe still long for.

First up, Gov. Chris Gregoire, who raved about an early present she received last month: Her granddaughter, Audrey Christine Lindsay. The last Christmas that Gregoire will spend in the governor's mansion will be her first with a grandchild. How cool is that?

"She is," said Gregoire's spokesman Cory Curtis "over the moon."

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's favorite Christmas gift was more a favorite tradition. "Every year, among many other things, I would get a book from my parents," McGinn said. "I am not sure I can even remember the books, but I do remember that I loved reading, and still love that my parents created and nurtured my interest in reading."

Margaret Larson, host of New Day Northwest on KING 5, was 8 years old when her father gifted her with a white Ferrari slot car. They used to go to giant slot-car tracks in her hometown — and eat hamburgers for breakfast (!) beforehand.

"It was the hottest thing I had ever seen," Larson said of her first — and only — Ferrari. "And it was one of those years when my parents warned us that we weren't getting much."

Chris Ballew, frontman of both The Presidents of the United States of America and Caspar Babypants (their new album, "I Found You!" is out now) told me about a collection of plastic characters with an outdoors theme.

"Camper Bill and Camper Jim or something," Ballew said. "Who knows? They were probably some off-brand, weird toy."

Second place was a cassette player on which Ballew and a friend created "The Bear Show," starring, well, a bear, played by Ballew. They made up commercials, did remotes from the family bathroom. You get the idea.

Ballew's wife, artist Kate Endle, recalled her parents giving her a $50 gift certificate to an art-supply store.

"I got professional markers and a caddie to put supplies in," she said. "I loved that."

Bainbridge Island author Claire Dederer, whose 2010 memoir "Poser" was a national best-seller, wrote that her best Christmas gift was, "So romantic and Northwesty that it's almost Too Much."

It was "an elegant wooden rowing skiff," made by a famous boat builder in Montana. Her mother's boyfriend, Larry, had refinished the oars and Brasso'd the oarlocks. Her brother, Dave had stitched together the leather oar collars.

"It was mine, all mine," Dederer said. "That afternoon, I launched my skiff in Lake Washington and rowed it from Webster Point through the Montlake Cut to my dad's place; it was the best trip through Seattle I ever took."

Jim Spady, vice president of Dick's Drive-In Restaurants and son of company namesake and co-founder Dick Spady, recalled a gift as American as, well, a hamburger: "My first bicycle. I don't remember the exact year — I was probably 5 or 6 — but I do remember how excited I was to see a shiny bicycle under our family's Christmas tree on a beautiful Christmas morning."

Dina Martina, the sloppily lipsticked alter-ego of theater artist Grady West, shared this Christmas memory: "One time, my daughter saved up her allowance for a whole year, just so she could make me dinner, which was delicious. Veal balls in a sumptuous seafood stucco."

Dina's worst Christmas present? "An old flame once gave me a cross necklace, but I didn't like it. The cross had a little man on it, which I found very odd." (Ahem).

Jennifer Worick, author of "Things I Want to Punch in the Face," has always loved a good photo booth. So her friend Jared gave her a large empty frame with a matte cut to showcase six photo strips, and prepaid to have them mounted.

"I picked photo strips of me with various friends in Philadelphia and had it mounted before I moved to Seattle," Worick said. "It hangs in my living room and I get to look at some of my favorite people in the world, including Jared, being silly with me. And I look GOOOOD in a photo strip."

Jack Cowan, the honorary French consul here, was in fourth or fifth grade when he got a microscope for Christmas.

"It was instrumental in my developing a love for biology," Cowan said.

How instrumental? Cowan went on to get a Ph.D. in microbiology, "And even though I went on to another career, I have always been fascinated by microbes."

Me, too. (What are microbes?)

And since this is Christmas, and we're giving things away, I'll leave you with this:

My best Christmas gift ever is my son, Brooks, who was born at 6:20 Christmas morning 20 years ago. No wise men showed up, and he's yet to turn water into wine. But he is the brightest star in my sky.

Happy Birthday, B. And God bless us, everyone.

Names in Bold appears Tuesdays. Reach Nicole at 206-464-2334; nbrodeur@seattletimes.com. Twitter: @nicolebrodeur. Subscribe on Facebook: facebook.com/STNicoleBrodeur


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