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December 12, 2009

Laura Kasischke on the Perfect Gift for a Spoiled Child

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Laura Kasischke, author of THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES and IN A PERFECT WORLD, reminisces about a particular holiday present she'd received as a child that stood out far amongst the heaps of toys she'd been given.

I was an only child in an extended family short on kids, the only niece among many aunts, great aunts, and even a few doting bachelor uncles. You can imagine the Christmas presents, I suppose. There were heaps of them beneath the tree: all manner of talking, walking, wetting, singing dolls. My Barbies had the kinds of wardrobes other girls' Barbies would have ripped my Barbies' eyeballs out for. My Kens had sportscars. My stuffed animals had combs and brushes, rhinestone collars and their own settees.

We weren't rich --- I feel the need to emphasize this before all you middle children from enormous families hate me even more than you already do --- but I was spoiled. I'll admit it. Wildly spoiled. If it hadn't been for a few hard knocks, I'd still probably be thinking that the Christmas season had been invented so that elderly relatives could have the pleasure of coming over and watching me unwrap my presents in the morning.

Where are those presents now?

Well, after those few brilliant Christmases spent together in this world, before old age and illness took my relatives and adulthood's hundred relocations scattered all of my childhood things, the best present I ever got resides inside me:

It is the sweet, sad, beautiful narrative of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which came to me first in a nine-box set of pulpy, simple, sturdy books.

Let me honest and tell you that, along with all the toys, those books have long since slipped away from me in a material sense. But by the time they were lost (or had moldered to ruin in a leaky basement or been sold at a garage sale) I didn't need them any longer. The Big Woods, the Prairie, the Shores of Silver Lake, the Banks of Plum Creek, and the people who lived and loved and suffered there through their exciting moments and their homely moments had taken up residence in me forever. Since the Christmas morning I was blessed with that gift, I have carried those places and those people with me everywhere I've ever gone --- along with that voice, and even the smell of those pages and the bright, inviting covers of those books and the smart box they slid into so satisfyingly.

And it's why I never have to think twice about what will make the best and most memorable gift for even the most spoiled child in my life. I know that after he or she rips off the packaging (maybe just a tad sorry that it's not the latest electronic device) to find a book, I know the gift is still yet to be opened. The gift will be inside the book.

-- Laura Kasischke

Later this afternoon, Sally Koslow shares her favorite Christmas Day activity.