The Perfect Gift

Gerry Down Parka at 1964 Winter OlympicsThe 1964 Winter Olympics held in Innsbruck Austria helped make Stowe’s Billy Kidd a well-known name in the United States. But that wasn’t the only US name that benefitted from the 1964 Olympic spotlight. The US contingent was outfitted in Gerry down parkas. With all the TV coverage, Gerry parkas became the parka to own.

Now Gerry wasn’t the first to make a down parka. Eddie Bauer gets that credit back in 1936. But Gerry made them lighter and as skiing’s popularity grew in the 1960s, Gerry was the parka to have if you wanted to be warm!

The Gerry company was named for its founder, Gerry Cunningham, who started the company in the 1930s primarily to make backpacking gear. The company gradually expanded its product line targeting skiers with the lightweight down parkas. Oh, and along the way Gerry Cunningham invented and patented the drawstring clamp or cordlock!

I apologize for the difficult trivia question last week. I should have just asked for whom Gerry parkas were named, but I was so taken with that cordlock trivia that I couldn’t pass it up.

But this isn’t a story about down parkas in general. It’s a story about a specific down parka.

Christmas is always a special time for kids. “Tis more blessed to give than to receive!” But every kid knows Christmas is about receiving. There’s making the list and then revising the list. There’s the difficulty getting to sleep on Christmas Eve. And the pre-dawn rush in the dark to open those first gifts from Santa.

Usually associated with each Christmas is some “in” gift or toy that everyone wants. That “in” gift is not a generic class of gifts, but a specific brand and model. It was no different when I was a kid. However my parents didn’t seem to realize that when I asked for a Tonka fire truck, that wasn’t just any fire truck. When they were out shopping, their Yankee frugality took over, and why pay twice as much for the Tonka when the XXX looked just as good. On Christmas morning I was still happy to get the XXX fire truck, but it wasn’t the Tonka.

As I grew up I realized that if I cared about something really specific, the safest way to get it was to save up my money and buy it for myself. As I became a serious skier, this was particularly true for ski equipment and gear. I wasn’t going to ask my parents for any skiing-related items.

So when it came time to open gifts at Christmas 1970, my parents seemed unusually nervous. They handed me my “big” present. I opened it and there was an Alpine Designs down parka. Yes, I needed a new parka and had never had a down parka, but I hadn’t asked them for one.

Painting of Me in the Blue Down ParkaIt was the perfect gift in fashion, function, and fit! It was an unexpected surprise. It was also perfect because I realized how far out of their comfort zone my parents had gone to buy this for me. Their nervousness showed in their remarks such as “The clerk said that you can exchange it if you’d prefer something different.” There would be no exchanging this special gift.

While I no longer have the parka, I do have the painting a friend made of me skiing in the parka. I gave the painting to my parents the following Christmas. That picture hung on my parent’s wall for the remainder of their lives.

I hope this Christmas brings you many special gifts!

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