Some presents are forgotten almost as quickly as they are unwrapped. Who hasn’t found a gift card buried in a drawer and wondered, “Do I still have money on this thing?” But others we cherish our whole lives. These are the gifts that typically have emotional, rather than monetary, significance. With the holiday season in full swing, we chatted with three neighbors about the presents that left imprints on their souls. From family heirlooms to star-studded vacations, here are their stories.
In the pocket
Preston Hollow resident Gene Kerns spends a lot of time thinking about the past. He can’t help it — he was raised by history buffs.
“My father was a great family historian,” he says. “And my grandmother was an antiques dealer.”
Kerns followed in his grandmother’s footsteps. As the co-owner of Heritage Antiques and Interiors, he scours the globe for things like 19th century armoires, Aubusson tapestries and hand-painted vases. It’s usually invigorating, he says, but sometimes acquiring “new” merchandise can be bittersweet.
“There’s a little bit of sadness when you see pieces that belonged to some family,” he explains. “You think, ‘What happened? Who wasn’t interested?’”
That someone could part with an heirloom is particularly shocking to Kerns because his family is so reverent of its own.
“When we were little there were three watches around the house,” he remembers. “They were kept in the safe and they only came out for special occasions.”
One of the timepieces, a gold pocket watch, belonged to his great grandfather, Hiram Oscar Kerns. It’s engraved with his initials and was a gift from the Masonic Temple where he served as grand master. Following Hiram Oscar’s death, the watch was passed down from eldest son to eldest son. Since Kerns has an older brother, he learned to admire the watch from a distance.
There was a bit of longing, but Kerns respected the tradition and knew he would inherit one of the other family heirloom watches. He took comfort in this fact until his father passed away suddenly and the timepieces were nowhere to be found. The Kerns family searched its home extensively, but came up dry. They had almost given up when a package arrived in the mail from Huntington, Va.
“The watches had been taken there for cleaning,” Kerns says, explaining that his parents lived in Huntington for a number of years. “[The jeweler] saw my father’s obituary, so he wrapped them all up, wrote a note, and sent the watches back — no charge.”
But that would not be the most memorable gift Kerns ever received. A few years ago, on Christmas morning, his brother presented him with a modestly wrapped package. Inside was Hiram Oscar’s gold pocket watch.
“My brother had no biological children,” Kerns explains. “He got married later in life to a woman with two kids … but they weren’t into family history … My brother is a very quiet person, so he didn’t make a big deal about it. He just said, ‘They would never appreciate it as much as you.’”
His brother was probably onto something. Few people talk about antiques with the same enthusiasm as Kerns.
“There’s just something about the past,” he says wistfully. “We should treasure it and honor it.”
Partying with Paris
Amy Johnson knows how to throw a party. Her husband, Heath, is a “diehard” Louisiana State University football fan. For his 40th birthday she took him to a game and invited Mike the Tiger to the after party. Mike arrived carrying an autographed picture of Coach Les Miles, which Johnson says was extremely hard to secure. Heath was so touched by his wife’s generosity he decided to make her 40th birthday the following year similarly epic. He arranged for her and six of her closest friends to fly to California for the weekend to live like stars. And he managed to pull it all off as a surprise.
“I did know we were going on a trip, but I didn’t know where,” she remembers. “He gave me the itinerary the night before, so I knew what to pack.”
When they arrived at LAX, Johnson and her buds were greeted by a limo driver and whisked off to quaint house in West Hollywood. They gussied up and spent a night on the town.
“[Heath] had reserved us a table at this bar,” Johnson says, laughing. “We had a bodyguard, and if we got up to go to the bathroom, he’d get up and go with us. It was hilarious.”
After one of their bathroom breaks, the ladies returned to find socialite-turned-reality-TV-star Paris Hilton and her cousin, Whitney, at the adjacent table.
“Whitney had the same birthday as me,” Johnson explains. “So we just kind of hung out with them and danced. [Paris] was really nice, not anything at all like I thought she would be. They actually invited us back to their place.”
Checking out Paris’ pad would have been cool, but Johnson and her crew had a big day ahead, so they declined to get some rest.
Her friend is a producer for “Dancing With the Stars,” who helped her score tickets and backstage passes to the show. Figure Skater Dorothy Hamill was a competitor that season and Johnson jokes it gave her flashbacks to bad childhood haircuts.
But that wasn’t the only TV set the ladies visited. They also had front row seats to the classic game show “The Price is Right.” Though they didn’t get to “come on down” and play the game, they were on camera the entire time.
“Seeing ‘The Price is Right’ [live] was on my bucket list,” Johnson says. “I grew up watching the show and I just love how cheesy it is. The décor and stuff was still straight out of the 1970s.”
After a couple more celebrity sightings (Gerard Butler and Ashley Judd), Johnson and her friends happily boarded the plane home.
“[My husband and I] are not very extravagant people,” Johnson insists. “So this was a huge treat and the perfect gift — I so much more prefer memories to things.”
Everyone knows everyone in Gilmer, Texas, a small town about 30 minutes north of Longview. As a youth minister, math teacher and high school football coach, Alan Loyd was a particularly dynamic member of the community. When he passed away abruptly in 2007 due to heart failure, the entire town mourned.
“He was super loved,” says his youngest daughter, Kimberly Rossbach. “The school [where he worked] shut down the day of his funeral so everyone could attend.”
Rossbach now lives in Preston Hollow with her husband and their toddler daughter, but she visits her mother and two siblings regularly. They spend a lot of time reminiscing about her father and his collection of “obnoxious Hawaiian shirts.”
“It started out with just one,” Rossbach explains. “We said, ‘Don’t wear that shirt ever again when we get back home!’ But anytime we’d go to the beach or on a cruise, he had to buy a new one. It became a joke.”
After his death, those shirts turned into some of the family’s most cherished possessions. It seemed a shame to keep them confined in a closet, so Rossbach’s mom devised a plan. She asked a seamstress friend to stitch the button downs into four quilts — one for herself, and one for each child. Rossbach remembers seeing the blankets for the first time on Christmas day in 2008.
“We were all crying,” she says, tearing up. “I was really close to my dad.”
Rossbach has mixed feelings about putting the quilt to use. On the one hand, she loves wrapping herself in the comfort it brings, but on the other she wants to keep it in pristine condition, so it stays in her family for generations.
“I’m always kind of torn,” she explains. “I just want to be careful with it.”
However, Rossbach recently took her daughter, Kennedy, to the beach for the first time and had no reservations about spreading the quilt on the sand — it was, after all, a very worthy occasion.