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At lunch today some friends dredged up a memory I want to write about. It may explain “tugster” and this blog. Earlier I disclosed that my parents, as immigrants, arrived in this country by ship from the Netherlands. As Dutch Calvinists whose adolescence coincided with Nazi occupation, not only could they not identify with North American commercialism, but they proudly abstained from it. Christmas eve and morning were to be spent in church not matter what days of the week they fell on. There was some gift giving but that happened on December 5, “sinterklaas dag,” and the gifts then might be a new pair of socks and some candy.
My parents were and still are dairy farmers way upstate, not far from Lake Ontario. A cattle dealer who came to the farm at least monthly was Ralph, who was also an immigrant. Ralph came from Dusseldorf, a German city on the Rhine just 30 miles from Arnhem, the Dutch city on the Rhine where my mother grew up. The war motivated my parents to leave the Netherlands, but in a much more powerful way, the same war motivated Ralph to leave Germany. He was Jewish; he left just before all of his family was arrested and sent to that place from which almost no one returned. You know that story.
My father and Ralph talked often and of many things. Like best of friends, they would get mad at each other, but they always made up. One day, they must have talked about Christmas, and Ralph left the farm mad. He returned the next day with a big box. In the box were Christmas presents; it turns out Ralph was very angry when he learned that my parents didn’t believe in giving us kids gifts.
So when I opened my Christmas present, my first Christmas present ever at the age of seven, my gift from my father’s Jewish friend, it was not socks, gloves, underwear, or a chocolate bar. My gift was a plastic boat model of Robert Fulton‘s Clermont. In all my life, I can say this was my best ever gift.