I recently wrote letters to my family, asking them to write down some memories about what life was like growing up, and to share some of their favorite memories or stories. Not about Christmas, just in general. I just got Mom’s via e-mail this evening, so I figured that I should probably write down some of my own memories, as a gesture of appreciation…
I remember being confused the first year we set up our little four-foot Christmas tree. I had thought that Santa brought the tree with him, and set it up himself, so that I would see the splendor of Christmas on Christmas morning, but not before. Mom and Memaw explained that, this year, we were helping Santa out by setting it up ourselves, to save him a little time.
Apparently, before then, our cottage/apartment/hovel was right next to a purveyor of Christmas trees. On Christmas Eve, he obviously wouldn’t be selling any more trees, so we would get a cut tree on the cheap (or free). Mom and Memaw would get the tree and set it up after I went to bed Christmas Eve, so I’d wake up and Santa would have brought the tree and all the gifts beneath it. (Well, some of them, anyway. Some were from Mom and Memaw.)
We had fantastic 70’s ornaments, too. They were all either orbs or pointed oblongs or bells, in pastel green and yellow (and blue?), with this great crystal-like coating, almost like large crystals of salt were glued to the outside of the ornaments. They made a neat brushing tinkling sound against the tree when they moved. There were also ornaments I’d made in school, like my handprint in plaster and things like that. We also had strings of lights, of course, both large blue indoor/outdoor lights and small indoor blinky lights, which would all be strung on the tree together. The blinking strands had to “warm up” first, but they’d start blinking a minute or so after you plugged them in, and would make that distinctive *buzz-tink* as they blinked on and off.
Then there was the tinsel and the garland. Only for a brief time did we have an indoor pet (a parakeet, Baby), so we didn’t have any worries about a cat or a dog eating the tinsel. Spraying fake snow on the windows was always a fun experience, too, especially during the time we lived in Florida and window flocking was the only snow we had.
I remember one year when my Aunt Connie and my cousins came over on Christmas Day and told me that Santa had made a mistake and left one of my presents at their house. I was surprised that Santa could mess up like that, but I was glad they brought me my electronic organ. Before long, someone had affixed masking-tape letters to one octave of keys, and Mom taught me to play “Heart and Soul.”
I loved getting electronic gadgets for Christmas. One year I got a Merlin (much cooler in the 80’s than it is now — I picked one up at the thrift recently and was underwhelmed with its joyous mysteries 20 years later). One year I got an electronic baseball game, and handheld Space Invaders followed close behind. I think I got the Pac-Man knockoff for my birthday one year, rather than Christmas, but its memory is still kind of mixed in there with the other electronic games.
Looking back at the few times I documented my Christmas hauls, I’m surprised at how much stuff I got, considering how little money we had. According to the diary entry I wrote in 1986, at age 10, that year I got:
- A Jem/Jerrica doll [she’s truly outrageous, don’t ya know]
- A magnetic fishing game [one of those little turntables with the fish that open and close their mouths, while you dangle magnets above them to catch them]
- A Garfield nightgown [that thing was long and flannel and I loved it]
- A Garfield PJ set
- An electron mini-piano [the three-inch long toys with the little rubber buttons labeled with numbers instead of note letters – but I learned to play Jingle Bells from the insert that came with it: 3-3-3, 3-3-3, 3-5-1-2-3…]
- A keyboard [again, a small white keyboard with white push-buttons instead of keys]
- Kitty-cat clip-on [I think this was a mini stuffed animal with clippy arms]
- Star Trek IV book [I was a trekkie at a young age]
- Cabbage Patch Kid [Freda Iris… she was my fourth, after Eveline Kali, Felicia Louisa, and Brett George]
- Cabbage Patch clothes for my boy, Brett George
- Electric Shaver [which I promptly decided was dumb, and started sneaking with Mom’s real razor]
- Face powder and blush
- Socks – pink, purple, and blue
- Earrings – whistles, feet, stars, hoops…
- New shirt and new jeans
- New backpack
And that’s not including the hair dryer and the Garfield ruler that my best friend Mechelle bought me. Of course, she got *two* Cabbage Patch Kids, a three-speed bike, a hair dryer, a bra (looking back, that was wishful thinking), and some other randomness. I didn’t see any inequities at the time — I thought Christmas was just fine.
1986 was long after I’d stopped believing in Santa Claus, so I knew my family had bought all these things for me. Looking back now, I see that everyone else — the adults, Mom and Memaw and Sammie — all got one or maybe two presents from each other person. I got a freakin’ cornucopia of greedy Christmas goodness.
I guess that’s how it is, with kids — Christmas is about making a special memory for them, not necessarily about getting what you want yourself, or even lavishing gifts on your significant other. Right now, Aaron and I focus mainly on each other, trying to buy things to make the other person surprised or happy (or “blessed,” as my step-Gary would say). In years to come, though, we’ll probably end up spending most of our Christmas money on Schnuthie Junior, I suppose, and buying each other one or two particularly special gifts. I’m sure it’ll make perfect sense when the time comes. For now, though, I look at the pile of presents under our tree tonight and think that, someday, all those presents could be for one little childishly greedy pair of hands.