November 28, 2023

COLUMN: The real gift

There was a question I heard floating around for people who grew up poor that just stuck with me. What’s something you equated with wealth that you now realize is common?

It took me awhile to think of something. My first thought was a fridge with a water dispenser, but that’s still pretty fancy in my eyes.

One day, my answer just hit me - Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats. I know, that sounds silly since they are only a few dollars, but hear me out.

When we went to a gas station or concession stand and were allowed to pick one item, my mind didn’t go to what would taste the best. I looked for what would last the longest. All I cared about was volume and longevity of the snack.

This meant I had to bypass Reese’s and Kit Kats every time because they were just too small. I remember getting Sprees one time even though I barely like them. I knew it would take me awhile to eat them.

Then I started getting Flaming Hot Cheetos. Why? Because I’m horrible with spicy foods. So they lasted forever. I had to take a break after every three or four to get feeling back in my tongue.

Even now, I consider Reese’s and Kit Kats to be the fancy candy. My go-to at the gas station now is a Crunch bar and a bag of Fritos Honey BBQ Twists.

Growing up poor, Christmas can be a confusing time for kids. Through songs and signs and parents’ teachings, we hear that Santa brings presents for good boys and girls.

What message does it send our children when Santa brings more for rich boys and girls than he does for poor kids?

I urge parents to take credit for the extravagant gifts. Make the new video game console from the parents and the new sweaters and books from Santa.

I’ve heard the argument if kids don’t get good gifts from Santa, they won’t have a reason to behave. First, I would encourage these parents to assess their parenting style if that’s the only thing keeping kids behaving.

But secondly, Santa could always tell the parents the child has been good, and he recommends they get that game console for the good boy or girl.

I remember my favorite Christmas of all time as a child, and the present came from my family.

As you know by now, I’m an avid reader. I read even more as a child. I had the American Girl books for Molly, one of the girls. The books are historical fiction. They each feature a 8 to 10-year-old girl navigating a time in American history.

Molly’s time period was during World War II. After reading hers, I borrowed the books from the library for all the other girls, one at a time. Addy was an escaped slave during the Civil War, Kit was in the Great Depression and Kirsten was a pioneer. They were all interesting, but one was everything to me.

Felicity Merriman was a Virginia colonist during the Revolutionary War. I don’t know exactly what it was about her story - maybe it was her being outspoken and a bit of a trouble maker, but I connected with Felicity.

Now, American Girl Dolls are a phenomenon. They have stores in malls, hundreds of dolls and tons of clothing options.

When I was a kid, there were only six main girls and a girl of the year. They weren’t as well known, and they didn’t come cheap. Even to this day, the dolls run from $65 to $110.

I wanted Felicity more than I’d ever wanted anything else, but we couldn’t afford her. This is the same girl thinking Reese’s are for rich people, wanting a doll costing more than a $100.

At the time, I was one of the only grandchildren, so my aunts and uncles all still gathered at my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve each year.

I had a good bit of presents that year, but my uncle Dave said he would keep this one present safe next to him. I didn’t care, there were presents to open. Eventually, I forgot about the present he was holding onto.

When all the presents were opened, he reminded me of what I’d forgotten. As I opened the present, I realized what it was, and the joy I felt was unmatched. My family knew how badly I wanted Felicity, so they all went in on it together to get her for me.

Christmas isn’t about Santa; it isn’t about gifts. It’s about family, joy and thankfulness. That’s where the real wealth lies.

Cheyenne Roche


Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.