What was your best gift ever?

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'Tis the season for giving and receiving -- and some gifts, years later, evoke remembrances of a special time, place or loved one, occupying a cherished spot in our hearts.

As we prepare for the holiday -- six days and counting -- some South Hills residents shared memories of the best Christmas gift they ever received.

"My late father, Mitchel Juston, was in the Navy and later worked for a private shipping company, so he spent a lot of time overseas and was never home at Christmas. One Christmas when I was about 12, I opened the closet door to hang up my coat and there was my father to surprise me. I screamed and started crying because I was so happy."

-- BARB POWISCHILL, 66, of Whitehall, retired teacher

"When I was 5, I got a piece of coal from my grandfather with 'Merry Christmas 2004' on it. I cried for a long time because getting coal for Christmas meant you were bad. Now, it's one of my favorite things to look back on because it is so funny that I cried, and it was just a joke. He got me something nice, too."

-- RAVEN BORKOWSKI,14, of Port Vue

"Thirty years ago when my daughter was 3, she was very ill on Christmas Eve, and we weren't sure if we should take her to the hospital. We didn't take her, and the next morning when she walked down the stairs and saw the tree and what Santa left her, her eyes lit up and she looked healthy and beautiful. It was a wonderful experience."

-- FATHER BRUCE M. SLECZKOWSKI, 62, pastor of Holy Family Polish National Catholic Church, McKeesport

"When I was a little girl, I got a stuffed doll with a plastic head. I loved it and always played with it, even as its head broke apart, the eyes came out, and it became very dirty. When my mother threw it out and got me a new doll, I cried for the old one. I didn't want a new doll; I wanted my baby back."

-- BARBARA HORWITH, 70, of Peters, wait staff for people with special needs

"My best gift arrived a little early in 1976 as my youngest son, Jim, was born on Dec. 14."

-- NICK EDINGER, 68, of Jefferson Hills, retired surety bond underwriter and broker

"When I was 9 and asked my parents for a Mattel Winchester toy rifle, they said no. But under the tree on Christmas morning was a big package with the note, 'To Dave from Santa,' and it was my rifle. I wasn't sure if I believed in Santa, but I wasn't going to push the issue."

-- DAVE FRANKOWSKI, 63, of Mt. Lebanon, retired teacher

"I was born on Christmas Day. I regarded that as my favorite gift and an honor to be born on Christ's birthday."

-- THERESA PETRONE, 84, of Whitehall, retired facialist

"Two days before Christmas, 25 years ago, my future husband, Dave, led me under the mistletoe in his house and said, 'I love you. Will you marry me?' We were married the following July."

 of Mt. Lebanon, homemaker

"In 2005, my grandfather, Norm Kraus, had been very sick with diabetes for years and wasn't supposed to make it as long as he did. But that Christmas Eve at his house he felt great, and his 'ho ho ho' to everyone made for a wonderful night, putting everyone in a good mood. It was very awesome to have him for that one last year."

-- NICK AQUILANTE, 23, of Glassport, information technology specialist for South Allegheny School District

"I received an Army bulldog tank by Remco when I was about 10 that had a lever in back that shot shells. It was really cool. I can remember shooting projectiles at my friends and their pets and terrorizing the neighborhood."

-- DAVE BODNAR, 65, of Mt. Lebanon, retired teacher and technology coordinator

"I loved the Chatty Cathy doll I got when I was 6. My parents both worked in the airline industry, and when we flew on trips, I always took Chatty Cathy, who sat on my lap."

-- KATIE ZIMMERMAN, 52, of Cecil, homemaker

"When I was 9, Santa brought me a football uniform of pants, white shirt over shoulder pads, blue helmet and more. I put it on all the time to play outside as there were lots of kids in my Brentwood neighborhood looking to play baseball or football at any time."

-- FRANK CAPPETTA, 56, of Upper St. Clair, dentist

"When I was about 4, I had a favorite Tiny Tears doll that my mother sneaked away without my knowledge to give to a woman to make a dress for it. On Christmas morning, the doll was sitting under the tree dressed in a fancy green dress and pinafore with embroidery. I was thrilled to death."

-- ROSEANNA "FRANKIE" FRANKOWSKI, 61, of Mt. Lebanon, retired scientist

"I grew up during the Great Depression when you got practical items that you needed. I got a lot of handmade things, like a scarf or gloves from my grandmother."

-- BOB OLSEN, 86, of Pleasant Hills, retired engineer

"I was 4, and when we went to the toy store, we pointed to what we wanted for Christmas. There was a big doll with long dark hair that I liked. My mother laughed, and said it was bigger than I was. On Christmas morning, 'Debbie Doll' was sitting in a corner. After I outgrew her, my mother placed her in the attic, and I forgot about her. When I was in my 30s, my mother bought the doll a new dress and gave her to me again at Christmas. She's in my living room, and over the years, all my nieces loved her and played with her. I still dress her seasonally."

-- DONNA ULRICH, 60, of Brentwood, UPMC executive secretary

"When I was 10, I received a bicycle. It was something I had wanted for a very long time as I was the youngest in my family and I watched all my older siblings ride around. That was a very special gift, and the last gift my grandmother ever gave me."

-- ELAINE MOORE, 66, of Jefferson Hills, retired educator of deaf children

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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