For weeks, e-mails, commercials and print ads have been telling us about the perfect gift, each offering one answer to a question to which...

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For weeks, e-mails, commercials and print ads have been telling us about the perfect gift, each offering one answer to a question to which there is no universal answer.

It’s an individual thing, partly about gifts, partly about the relationships they represent. I asked some people what was the best gift they ever got, and their answers were mostly about people they love.

Margarita Ivannikova was letting her dog Ralph romp through the dog run at Genesee Park late one afternoon.

“My daughter, before she went to Austria, she bring me this dog, and she say, ‘Mom, don’t cry.’ She say this dog will make me happy.”

Ivannikova says her daughter, Anna, was right. Ivannikova is in a city far from her native Moscow and far from her daughter, but she has Ralph to keep her company and to remind her that her daughter thinks about her.

“No diamonds can replace him.”

Theresa Nafziger told me her favorite present was a cherry pitter. It probably cost her partner only $1.59, she said, but it was thoughtful, something she would like and use.

Lisa Cooper was trying to get her frisky dog, Bella-boo, into her pickup. She thought for a moment and said the gift of forgiveness. She said she’s also thankful for friends who helped her through a health crisis and renewed her faith in people.

Sheron Burton, whom I found standing in line at a grocery store, didn’t have to think a second. She said the best gift she’s ever had was her sister getting her out of California.

They’re from Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County. Her sister moved up here four years ago. She went home when their father died and brought her younger sister when she came back three weeks ago.

Burton said Antelope Valley is no place to raise children. She’s 25 now and doesn’t have any children yet, but when she does, this will be a better place for them.

There must be something attractive about Seattle, since I kept running into people who were new to the area; most of them came because of their jobs.

I saw Lura Winn waiting on a taxi. She said she moved here recently from Michigan for a job doing rehabilitation work with blind people. She said the best gift she’s gotten was an eight-piece cookware set her mother gave her just after her own daughter was born in 2001.

“It’s something I couldn’t have afforded at that time, and it’s been extremely useful.”

She admits to dropping a hint before that Christmas. “I had said, ‘Wow, your pots are really awesome.’ ” That’s all it took.

Francis Lau was looking for a pair of reading glasses at a drug store. His answer: Friendship and love. Material things don’t mean much, he told me.

He and his wife have just moved here from Washington, D.C., for his job, but also to be closer to family in Vancouver, B.C.

“It’s important to let people know how you feel while you can. You never know … “

Lau is 60. He and his wife just got back from visiting his mother in China. They were supposed to celebrate her 90th birthday, but instead they spent their time in a hospital where she is being treated for breast cancer.

That’s why it’s important to show people that you care about them, he said.

How do you do that, I asked?

“By being sincere, willing to help, being honest. Give them a hug when you have a chance.”

Not everyone is so philosophical. I saw a survey of people in their teens and 20s, and what they wanted most this Christmas were iPods and status fashion stuff.

I felt a sermon coming on when I read that, but I like getting gifts I think are cool, too, and I enjoy seeing others open a gift they really like. How do you know if someone is deep or just cheap, wasteful or giving?

Sometimes it’s clear, but not always.

Life isn’t neatly divided into deep meaning and shallow thrills. Sometimes the two come intertwined in a colorful package under a tree, a little symbol of the bond between two people.

The perfect gift is whatever represents giver and receiver in sync.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.