Tales from the Gift

Flashlights, GOP handbooks and dirty shirts: very, very costly.


This will not be an O. Henry moment.In what follows you will find no stories of bartered hair and pocket watches. If there is sentimentality in these tales of best and worst gifts, we didn’t put it there. Deploying the sharpest investigative tools, by which we mean, of course, telephone and e-mail, we have asked some of Charlottesville’s fine folks to spill it on what has thrilled them and chilled them. Read on and learn. And here’s a hint: Stay away from toilet fixtures, discount candy and anything with the words “pickled” and “pig” in the description. That is, if you want to be invited back to the feast next year.


Kore Russell

Proprietor, Oasis Day Spa

One of the best gifts I ever received was when I was in Nagoya, Japan, and I had been with my ex-husband on a blues music tour. We were in a tour bus going back to the hotel. For some reason the bus was stopped. And B.B. King was up the stairs looking for me. At the time he called me Mrs. Harris. He walked up to me and handed me asingle red rosefor no reason except to be sweet. I kept it because I felt it was a real honest, sincere sentiment and he wanted to make me smile and give me a gesture of friendliness.


Charles Peale

Illustrator and WTJU radio host

A few years ago I was given a present by a friend of mine. It was a photograph that she found in her attic, really large, 20” x 18” or something like that. It’s a sterling portrait of a woman in her bridal outfit. She has a string of pearls, her veil off, flowers in her hand and she’s staring off. It was taken by Bradford Bachrach, who apparently wasa sought-after photographeraround here, or maybe somewhere else. It was really something. I have it up in my office. Somehow it was the best present and worst present I ever got, because my friend said she just found it. Anyway, people often come in here and say, “Is that your mother?”

Damani Harrison

Frontman, Beetnix

It was last Christmas. My older sister and I had been really tight until the time I was 16 or 17 and she left home to join the military. While she was gone, a lot of things happened in her life and I had not seen her for more than a week in four or five years. Last year in August she told me she had met a guy, and they were engaged to be married. She called me right before Christmas and told me she wanted to get married here in Charlottesville with my family and me. She came up here Christmas Eve. It took us forever to track down a justice of the peace on Christmas Eve. We married her in town and her daughter was there, too. Her husband was a really wonderful guy. We reconnected that day. And ever since then, we’ve been so tight. We had a beautiful dinner that night. When my wife and I got married, we had a wine goblet that splits in two like a yin yang. My sister and her husband drank from it during their ceremony. That was the greatest gift that I could have gotten—that my sister wanted to share that special moment with me anddrove all the way up from Mississippito do it.


Matteus Frankovich

Tea Missionary, Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar

The best gifts were all the American classics. The Schwinn Stingray, the Red Rider BB gun. The best gift was traveling with a friend in British Columbia who got me a ticket to asensory deprivation tankand my mind was particularly ripe at the time and I entered into a state, which has not left me since. It was one of supreme neutrality in which the lines between good and bad diminish. So asking me about a good gift or a bad gift…. Basically what I’m saying is that every complete vision of God must have a vision of terror in it and often times you say the “worst gift” and that could be the most transformative. Like putting you at your wit’s end, you sometimes come closest to the ultimate in those experiences. That would be desirable for me.


Ted Rall

Cartoonist and political commentator

The worst gift I ever got was in 1984. I was working on the Mondale campaign at the time. I was really crazy about this girl andspent a ridiculous amount of moneyon a watch for her. It was beautiful and she was really pleased with it, but she didn’t give me anything. Christmas passed; we were well into the new year. It sort of got to be a joke. Finally she decides to cough up a gift. It should be noted, I was in college at the time and had just had my financial aid package completely gutted by Reagan. I was working three jobs trying to stay in school, my grades were going to hell and I really held Reagan personally responsible for the fact that my life was going to hell. With all this, what does she do? She gives me this really, really cheesy GOP propaganda book for Christmas on February 1. And it wasn’t a gag gift. She said, “I thought you liked politics.” It was at that moment that I realized I had to dump this girl I was crazy about who I had thought I would marry.


Adam Thorman

Downtown regular

The worst gift I ever got was adirty white shirtfrom a thrift store, from my brother. The best gifts I ever got I bought myself, and there are a lot of them.

Mary Murray

Graphic designer

The worst Christmas present I ever got was when I got a Gravely lawn mower, which is a really good lawn mower, but the message was clear:Guess who’s mowing the lawn?

The best Christmas present I got was from my present husband who doesn’t know that much about art but he got me a French painting easel. The first couple of times I took it out, I was too self-conscious to stay out in public, until my very good friend said, “Shut up and paint.” Now I take it outside and to painting class and I park it in my living room so I look like an artist.


John Owen

Interior designer/painter

I was once given a soft toilet seat. That was the worst.

One of the best was from my daughter Sarah who wrote mea wonderful book of poemswhen she was very young and bound it herself and put illustrations in it. Every time I move, should my address change, Sarah will come and find it so she knows where it is should I ever lose it.


Alexandria Searls


The best Christmas present I’ve ever received: a gold garnet ring that I wear. I’ve also received a beautiful Twelve Days of Christmaspop-up book, by the artist Robert Sabuda. It’s gorgeous.

Worst present I’ve ever received: I have a charm bracelet, and I once received a charm that I just

didn’t want to put on there.


Bryce McGregor

Publisher, C-VILLE Weekly

One of the best gifts I got was when I was 5 years old. I got an Electro-Shot Shooting Gallery. It was an arcade-kind of game that had BBs and it was self-fed. But there was a hole in the back andone of the BBs fell outand I stuck it in my nose and ended up in the hospital. I spent Christmas afternoon in the emergency room. My parents treated it as though I had a knife in my frontal lobe, but the doctor plugged up one nostril, put a Kleenex on the other and said, “blow,” and out it came.


John Gibson

Artistic Director, Live Arts

We had an aunt who was notorious for her bargain shopping, and one Christmas she stopped by a Russell Stover outlet and we each got two pounds of candy that had been fused together into one solid mass—factory-reject candy. And it wasall fruit creams, too.


Terri Saunders

Proprietor, Sunrise Herb Shoppe

To me the best gifts are those that touch my heart, and usually they’re fromsomeone I loveor someone who loves me. It’s not so much the substance of the gift but what’s behind it. Unless the intent is negative, I think any gift is a good gift.


Eden Turkheimer

Seventh Grader, Buford Middle School

I got a cell phone. It was good because I can use it and I don’t have topay a billon it and I don’t have to borrow my Dad’s because I got my own.

The worst gift was a hot pink shirt with Barbie on it. I got it when I was 8 and I never wore it.


Sandy McAdams

Proprietor, Daedalus Bookshop

Twenty-two years ago at the holiday season, my wife, finally, after enormous pressure, agreed to marry me. Best present I ever got. She’s wonderful, has a huge heart, kept me out of jail andI’m not dead.


Barbara Shifflett

Proprietor, Station and Mono Loco restaurants

My best gift was the first year my dad bought Christmas gifts on his own, because Mom always bought. It was incredible to get a gift from your dad that you knew he picked. It was a winter sweater with knitted flowers appliquéd on.

The worst was when someone gave me a jar ofpickled pig lips. It was horrible. I threw it away or probably I re-gifted it like they did on “Seinfeld” to someone equally as deserving.


Ann McDaniel

Director, The Warehouse (the official Dave Matthews Band fan club)

In thinking this over, my memory keeps returning to the Xmas when I was probably 8 years old.

I opened a small flat box containing a wonderfulpen and ink drawing my father, an architect/artist, had done of a beautiful canopy bed. It took me a moment to figure out, but in the basement was a canopy bed and all matching bedroom furniture. It was one of the best Christmases ever.


Jill Hartz

Director, University of Virginia Art Museum

The best gift was when I was 14, I got tickets to see the Beatles in Detroit. So you can imagine! My father took me with three other girls. He dropped us off and picked us up afterwards. Inside it was just abunch of screaming girls. We made these gum-paper chains that we threw at them. It wasn’t a very long concert, in retrospect. They opened with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The most disappointing part of it was that my father had contacts with people who knew them and thought we’d be able to go to a cocktail party and meet them. But that fell through.


Adam Geilker

Fourth Grader, Johnson Elementary School

I don’t know what the worst gift I ever got was, but the best was when I was 4 and my grandmother I call Nana gave me a 3-foot-long white teddy bear.It was all furryand everything. It’s really old and tattered now. Now I use him as a pillow, but he’s mainly legs so he’s not much of a pillow. I named him Jonah.


Randolph Byrd

Publisher and Republican analyst

I was 10 years old and I wanted a “big boy” bicycle—26 inches. What I wanted was aSchwinn Phantombut I didn’t want the red one. That year they made them in all chrome. I wanted the all-chrome one. My parents told me prior to Christmas there were none available so I thought I’d have another bad Christmas with just socks and underwear and a lump of coal in my stocking. And I woke up Christmas morning and there was the beautiful, dazzling chrome bike. I felt like Pee-Wee Herman incarnate. That was my Cadillac for a long time.


Jen Sorensen

Cartoonist and this issue’s cover artist

A few years ago, my boyfriend, now my betrothed, went to Hawaii over the holidays and brought me back a tiki doll key chain. The tiki was supposed to be a reference to a “Brady Bunch” episode called “The Tiki Caves,” which unfortunately, I had never seen. He also gave me ashot glass covered with hula girls.

Of course, he intended these to be the worst gifts ever, but in these ironic times, perhaps that makes them the best gifts ever.


Al Byrne

Co-founder, Patients Out of Time, a marijuana

education group

I was 17 years old. I had been dating her for three years. I was madly in love. She gave mea flashlight. And she did it in front of my best friend and his date. It was over. Right at that moment.


NJ Gauthier

Local Music and Metal Director, WNRN-FM

When I was about 6 years old, around Christmas time I was complaining that our cat’s Christmas stocking was bigger than mine, and then—that Christmas day I came downstairs and Santa had brought mea stocking 4-feet tall! Full of goodies. I didn’t complain about my stocking that year again. I think later Santa burned that 4-foot stocking due to the cost of filling such a stocking, but at least I had it for a while.


Chad Hershner

Executive Director, The Paramount Theater

One of the things I remember is that growing up as a kid I always got a large orange at the bottom of my stocking every year. It was because my mother grew upin the years of the Depression, and they got an orange or chocolate bar. That was their special gift. I always got an orange and it was always special. It reminded you that then the holidays were more about family and treasuring the gifts you have around you every day.


Andrew Holden

Living-wage activist

Best gift was when I was in jail [for protesting low wages at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel]. It was definitely the best gift I ever received. My fiancée knitted me a scarf herself. It’s nothing fancy, but she put so much love into it that it made it wonderful. I wear it all the time.

The worst gift wasone doughnutthat I received as a Christmas bonus from an employer, a factory I worked at. It was a glazed doughnut.

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