December 24, 2018

Christmas Gifts: Past And Present

In this most consumption-drenched season of all – what the west and, particularly, America – has made of a day commemorating the birth of Christ, it may not be too terrible a crime to remember some of those little gifts that have a way of lingering in the mind long after the day itself and long after those who gave it may have passed into that unknown territory we all shall someday visit.

The year is 1948. I am four years old. The gift is a pressed tin version of a Sherman tank (one of the least effective of the Second World War) that spits sparks instead of bullets and creeps along on its wind-up tracks made of cheap rubber. Very cool.

The year is 1950. I am six years old. The gift is a western outfit modeled on the one worn by William Boyd in the “Hopalong Cassidy” television series. The shirt and pants are black. So are the hat and the boots, although they have some white tooling. The gun belt has two holsters and the pistol handles are of faux pearl. I am bad.

The year is 1952. I am eight years old. The gift is a plastic replica of a nineteenth century cavalry fort such as may have once existed on the western plains if designed by the Louis Marx & Company. It was called “Fort Apache” and I loved it for the connection to all those John Wayne movies (“She Wore A Yellow Ribbon”, “Rio Grande,” and… inevitably, “Fort Apache.”) Here they come!

The year is 1954. I am ten years old. The gift is a bicycle. A two-wheeler by God!!! It’s a “Challenger”, made by B.F. Goodrich (of all people!). To my ten year-old mind, a bicycle like this means freedom above all, freedom from the hated school bus, freedom from walking to school at Our Lady of Lourdes, freedom from some scintilla of parental control. Oh, the joy!

The year is 1956. I am twelve years old. Now that I’m into the throes of puberty, my folks have decided that I need a book on sex… or something close to that taboo subject. I can’t remember the name of the book, but it produced an unintended effect. That same Christmas, they also gave me the book, “Deliver Us From Evil,” the saga of Doctor Tom Dooley and his medical missionary work in a strange faraway land called Vietnam. Dooley later turned out to be something of a fraud, one of his biggest sponsors (Leo Cherne) later became a dear friend of mine, (there’s irony for you!) and Vietnam…well we never heard from it again.

The year is 1958. I am fourteen years old. By now, I’m into music and the gift is a portable stereo record player that can handle – wait for it – 33, 45, and 78 RPM records! Will miracles never cease? But here’s the best part: I also get a set of record albums. I’ve become a somewhat precocious fan of Broadway musicals and so the set includes “West Side Story” with Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence and the stage version of “Oklahoma” with John Raitt (Bonnie’s dad), Celeste Holm, and a player to be named later. Does it get better than this?

The year is 2018. I am seventy-four years old. I have been married to Ellen for forty-eight years and – very soon – our son Jason, his wife, Debbie, our twin granddaughters, Cori and Kenzi, and our grandson Jack will arrive from Pennsylvania to spend a week with us.

The very best gifts of all!