The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

December 29, 2013

Best gifts are enduring, thoughtful

The Commercial-News

— Christmas is over. Sadly, millions of people are looking at certain gifts and silently wondering, “Why did she get me THAT? Did he really think I’d like THAT? What am I going to do with THAT?”

Which explains the popularity of gift cards.

To me, gift cards are OK, but rather boring, sterile and impersonal. A “real” gift is warm, human and intimate; it embodies thoughtfulness, shopping prowess and a clear understanding of the recipient’s tastes, likes and personality.

To me, a perfect Christmas gift is enduring, and something that I will use a lot. Several wonderful “favorite things” come to mind:

-- Russell Hobbs K2 electric tea kettle. The English know tea accessories. In 1960, England’s Russell Hobbs Company introduced the K2, a steel electric kettle that shut itself off when the water started to boil. It was a tremendous hit, despite the high cost — 7 British pounds at time when the average working man made 14 quid a week. The K2 was retired in 1980. Mine is a faithful friend that I use every morning, all year long.

-- Belknap “Blue Grass” claw hammer. The Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company was in downtown Louisville, Ky., for more than 125 years. Its celebrated “Blue Grass” hammers were prized by carpenters for their perfect balance, beautiful finish, faceted hickory handles and beveled claws that allow you to pull the smallest, thinnest brads. Belknap went out of business in 1985, but its claw hammers — in the opinion of many — have never been bettered. I love my 16-ounce model.

-- Boy Scout knife. Pocketknives come in countless forms, but the good old Boy Scout model is hard to beat. I carry one and use it daily to cut, scrape, pry, turn, open and tighten things. Mine has two cutting blades, a screwdriver/bottle opener combination blade and a screwdriver/can-opener combo blade. When somebody needs a knife or a screwdriver and doesn’t know what to do, it’s fun to come to the rescue like a knight of old.

-- Navy pea coat. Any former sailor will tell you that the classic Navy blue pea coat is hard to beat. I have been wearing one since I was in college. It’s warm but not bulky: tightly-woven, wool with satin lining, double breasted, plastic buttons with anchors, a stiff collar that can be turned up to protect the neck and ears. It’s practical but still dressy. I even wear mine to the office.

-- Good moccasins. Laurie and the girls bought a pair of Russell double-soled leather moccasins for me for Christmas, roughly 15 years ago, and I’m still wearing them. The Russell Moccasin Co. has been making moccasins, shoes and boots by hand in Berlin, Wis., since 1898. My mocs cost $100, but like most great gifts, they last and last and are a continuing delight to own.

Any of the above — to me at least — is better than yet another gift card.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at