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by Abigail Van Buren

Grandma's Memories Become Family's Most Treasured Gift

DEAR ABBY: My grandmother lives on a fixed income. For years I have sent her boxes of Christmas cards and stamps to help her with holiday expenses. They're a great gift for someone with a limited income who doesn't need one more bottle of bath oil or another knickknack. I was surprised last year when she told me that she was working on a Christmas present for me. It was a history of her life.

She dictated her biography into a tape recorder, and my aunt used a word processor to transcribe it. It began: "I, Pearl Thompson, was born in Iroquois in Kingsbury County, S.D., on May 4, 1907." It goes on, sharing all the milestones of her 87 years. She describes her father and his sons claiming land in South Dakota; building their own houses; seeing Halley's comet in 1911; and how they survived the year the great drought hit. She shared how she met George (my grandfather) and some of her grandparents' genealogy, of which I was unaware.

My favorite story is a Christmas memory: "A special Christmas for me was during the '30s when a 10-gallon can of cream sold for $3.50, and eggs were a nickel a dozen. George took the produce to town and came home carrying a pretty plate. I have used it every Christmas since."

And now her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have this precious memento to remember her by.

I hope you will tell your readers about my grandmother's priceless Christmas gift, Abby. Then perhaps more grandchildren will share in the true joy of the holidays. -- TERRY L. THOMPSON, DALLAS

DEAR TERRY: A family history is a gift that money can't buy and exemplifies the true spirit of Christmas -- the gift of "self." Although your letter arrived too late to inspire my readers last Christmas, perhaps it will be an incentive for those who have put off recording their family history. Read on for a similar example of "keepsake creativity":

DEAR ABBY: A few years ago my parents made a videotape for their children and grandchildren. It was the most precious Christmas gift I have ever received.

They told us as much as they could remember about their parents, grandparents and family history. They told about their childhood, youth, meeting and falling in love. They described their early marriage, their hopes, dreams and plans for their life together. They talked about us children as babies, and related stories that were funny, sad, poignant and informative. They told of their triumphs and tragedies, dreams fulfilled and forsaken. They repeated family stories that kids hear many times but soon forget.

There was no attempt to make it a professional tape. They simply borrowed a camcorder, set it up and started to talk. If a horn blew, a dog barked, a phone rang -- no one seemed to care. It took them about a week to make the tape. One would talk until he or she was tired, then the other would sit down and carry on. The recorder would be turned off until the next day.

My parents are both gone now, but I can still hear their voices, see their faces and feel that they are here with me. This gift, which cost only a little time and a lot of love, is my greatest treasure. -- MARTI ALLEN, DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.

DEAR MARTI: From your description, I, too, can almost hear them talking. And for those people who are intimidated in front of a camera, or can't seem to get started, a simple question can get the ball rolling: "Mother, will you please tell me a little about your childhood and your family?"

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