Dennis Fiori, director, Maryland Historical Society
“About two years ago, I received the strangest gift from John Waters. It is also my favorite one. It’s a clear glass Christmas ball. On the outside it says ‘Merry Christmas.’ Inside is a cockroach. It isn’t a real one; it’s rubber. I treasure it. It has to do with the cockroach dress in ‘Hairspray.’ We exhibited the real thing a few years back. “Anything I get from my 85-year-old mother also qualifies as strange. For about 10 years, whenever she eats in a restaurant or stays at a hotel, she takes the ketchup, mustard, jam, salt and pepper packets, shampoo, little bars of soap and sewing kits. At Christmas she puts all this stuff together in little bags and makes kits for family members to put into our cars for emergencies.”

Michael Harrison, director, Baltimore Opera Company
“One year someone gave me a light-up statue of Joan of Arc. I guess it was supposed to be a night light, but I never used it. I was afraid that if I plugged it in, it might actually burst into flames. A Japanese friend gave me a statue of Santa Claus on the cross. I think it was an effort by the Japanese to capitalize on a Christian holiday, but they got it a bit mixed up.”

Mary Beth Marsden, anchor, NewsChannel 2
“My husband’s family has this ongoing joke. They give a gag gift for Christmas to the new person in the family and no one else says a word. It’s a decorative potato door hanger made out of burlap and pantyhose that says ‘spuds.’ One of the potatoes is wearing a Minnie Pearl hat. It’s the ugliest thing you ever saw. When it was given to me I had to be gracious, but then eventually everyone laughed. Right now it’s in the far corners of my basement. Since I have it, I get to decide who gets it next. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law live in Hawaii so I think that’s where it will go— less chance of it coming back to me.”

Sandy Glover, interior designer
“Pat Modell, one of the previous owners of the Ravens, gave me a custom-made, fur-lined bra with real fur at a luncheon at her house the Christmas before last. Everyone had to bring funny gifts. Someone gave it to her years before and she gave it to me. It is a riot. This isn’t fake fur, this is the real thing.”

Dr. Barney Wilson, principal, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
“One Christmas my best friend in Michigan and another Poly grad, Wallace Wiggins, sent me a meticulously wrapped gift. The box was filled with lots of tissue, I thought it would be something really nice. When I saw these huge, very colorful bookends of two farmers— a husband and wife wearing a straw hat and patches on the overalls— I couldn’t figure it out. I’m an African-American and so is he, and these were two white farmers. What he sent had nothing to do with our friendship, and they didn’t fit in with anything I have in the house. This was about five years ago. Since then they have become precious because they didn’t make any sense at all.”

Carole Carroll, organizer, Night of 100 Elvises
“Not in a million years did I ever think I would own a velvet painting of anything, but some friends gave me a large, framed velvet Elvis. It’s at least 5 feet by 3 feet, not counting the frame. I have it hung happily above my desk in the office; it takes up a good bit of my wall and always makes me smile. My friends named it Velvis. It’s a pretty good likeness of him, honestly. I never ever received another gift that has a name.”

Winston Tabb, dean of University Libraries and Sheridan director, Johns Hopkins University
“The funniest gift I ever got was from my son when he was 10 years old. Before Christmas he went to a craft fair with his aunt and he got me a big ornament made out of construction paper and cotton with a yarn hanger. It was quite an ugly thing. We put it on the tree and forgot about it. The next year when we found this ornament I completely forgot where it came from. We stuck it on the back of the tree and, of course, that was the first thing my son looked for. Since then, we made sure it was put in the most prominent location on the tree. He’s 30 now, just became a father a few months ago himself. I’m looking forward to seeing what his son comes up with.”

Jimmie Judd, owner, Amos Judd & Sons Antiques
“One year I decided to give three or four of my best male friends a tie clip with their names engraved on the front. I went to a jeweler and had them custom-made in 18-carat gold. When Doug Hofmann, the Baltimore artist, opened his, he started rolling on the floor laughing. My daughter, Geri, went over and picked up the box and she did the same thing. When I looked at it I realized that I had spelled his name ‘Dug.’ To this day, Doug has never forgotten it. He says that this was the best present he has ever received. That was 20 years ago.”

Timothy Dawson, principal, Baltimore City College
“One Christmas one of the kids in school gave me Old Spice cologne. When I saw it, it made me feel so old. Old Spice, that’s my Dad’s favorite! I was in total shock. I rewrapped it and gave it to my Dad; he’s been using Old Spice for years. Wearing Old Spice is not a cool thing for a principal. I couldn’t imagine walking down the halls wearing it. One of the kids would probably say, ‘Oh, what is that awful smell?’”

Billie Grieb, president, Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
“The first Christmas after I started working at the zoo, all my gifts were animal related. I received an ice bucket and a clock, both in the shape of giraffes; zebra-striped napkins and leopard placemats, along with animal print candles and scarves. The ice bucket being hugged by a spastic-looking giraffe has never been out of its box. My mother gave me a ‘family’ of plush monkeys! While each gift was thoughtful, the combined effect was frightening, especially when I thought that all my future gifts were destined to be animal-themed. Fortunately, that prediction turned out to be false, and I enjoy the occasional zoo-related gifts I now receive.”

Cynthia Glover, principal, Smart Works: A marketing company
“One Easter my father-in-law gave me a little box. Inside was what looked just like an Easter egg but it was heavier than what an egg would be. It was ‘iced’ with what appeared to be white frosting that had little squiggles and flowers and colors. It even had my name on it. I swiped a little icing with my finger to take a lick but it wasn’t sweet. The icing was made of mashed potatoes. The ‘egg’ was a meatloaf made with the family recipe beloved by the children. He used food colorings to make little flowers, the kind you would find on a butter cream Easter egg. My father-in-law has a very strange sense of humor.”

JoAnn Fruchtman, owner, The Children’s Bookstore
“Several years ago my mother and stepfather gave me a beautiful wooden harp. It is fashioned after King David’s harp. I have no idea why they gave it to me or what I was supposed to do with it. I didn’t play the harp. It’s been sitting in my living room looking beautiful ever since.”

Katie Flory, volunteer coordinator, MDSPCA of Baltimore
“Every year for 20 years my cousins in California send me a new cat nightshirt or sweatshirt, the kind that are sold at those mall kiosks. I never wear them; I don’t wear a lot of animal clothing. Each year I give the previous year’s shirt to Goodwill and keep the new one until the next year when I go through the same Goodwill process. At one point I mentioned I like cats and they haven’t let it go.”

Kristen Dinisio, CEO, Warschawski Public Relations
“A few summers ago, my boyfriend went on vacation in Naples, Fla. While he was waiting for his return flight, he realized that he hadn’t bought me a gift and felt terrible so he went to the closest airport gift shop and picked me up a little something. When I opened it up I was terrified; he bought me a scaly alligator leg backscratcher. Let’s just say I never used the backscratcher and that I think I might have ‘misplaced’ it. A very sweet and thoughtful gesture, but I’ll pass next time on the dried-up alligator claw.”

Timothy Dean, chef/owner, Timothy Dean Bistro
“When I was working with Jean Louis Palladin I told him I never had turtle soup. One day he handed me a box all wrapped up. Inside was a live turtle to make turtle soup. I said, ‘Oh man, I can’t kill Timothy the turtle!’ I just couldn’t do it, I thought he was going to give me turtle meat but I couldn’t kill Timothy. Jean Louis had to do it.”

John Yuhanick, president, John Yuhanick Associates
“Two years ago someone gave me a lovely Elsa Peretti bowl from Tiffany’s. I liked it, but I had other things I liked better and I’m trying to be more minimalist. I was going to NYC to visit some good friends and I brought the bowl as a house gift and it was well-received. Low and behold, a short time later these New York friends gave the bowl to other Baltimore friends of mine, so the bowl made its way back to town. Those other Baltimore friends not knowing where the bowl originated gave it to me for a gift. I’m not giving it to anyone ever again.”

Susan Perrin, art consultant
“For Christmas, two years ago when our first and only grandson was 2 months old, my husband, Stephen, made and placed in my stocking, business cards for our new grandson. The cards looked just like any other business card. It had a logo, contact information and a color photo, but the cutest part was under his name, Jack Henry Perrin, where you would expect to see a job title such as ‘president,’ appeared the word, ‘Baby.’ It was great because it gave me an opportunity to carry around a business card instead of torturing my friends with photos of my grandson. I would just pull one out and say, ‘Here’s a business card from Jack.’”

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