How The World Wags
By Dave Kiffer
Of course, that never quite happened and my attempts to be the world's greatest Christmas consumer never quite came to fruition. What my parents did - after I had reached the age where I finally accepted the fact that I was not going to receive every toy - was hand me the Wish Book and tell me what the total value of the toys I wanted could be. Usually in the range of $25. That should tell you how old I am right there. These days, $25 wouldn't even cover a pair of Desert Storm GI Joe's kevlar-embedded underwear.
But it worked pretty well back then, especially when you consider the shipping didn't count against the Christmas "cap" and I could usually get one of my parents to spring for an additional toy or two bought locally at either Race Avenue Drug or Dale's Promart.
I remember one year things were a little tighter than normal and they decided to enforce the $25 dollar limit. I put up such a stink that one of my older brothers gave in and bought the additional toy for me himself just to keep peace in the home. And he wasn't even living at home at that point!
Another time, I demanded a small stuffed camel at Race's and my Dad said I had to pay for it myself. I scoured the house for all available change and came up with the exact amount, $5. Naturally, I didn't take sales tax into account. When informed of that oversight, I turned into a whirling dervish of frustration and tears. The sales clerk listened patiently for about 5 minutes and then told me I had 10 seconds to dash down the stairs and out the door or else she would charge me sales tax. Me and the camel made it out in five. These days, I'm sure, the Borough would file suit over such action, although I have no proof that she didn't pay the sales tax herself.
You would think that - since I took such a great interest in acquiring these toys - I would have fond memories of them. I don't. Maybe I am getting old, but I can only remember a couple of the toys I got over the years and that's only because they were pretty big.
That was the rule at one point, I always had to have the biggest box under the tree. So I naturally remember getting things like half-sized pool tables and those neato football stadium games where the players "moved" by vibrating. I also remember a gnarly-fun little NBA game that featured pictures of such current players as Nate Thurmond, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain wearing short shorts on the court (another clue to my elusive age!) . The ping-pong sized ball would land into a hole near one of the players and you would release a spring loaded lever to shoot the ball toward the basket. Score!!
It was a neat game, but hardly that all encompassing toy that defines my childhood. I will not vex my biographers by uttering the words "NBA All-Star Jump Shot " on my deathbed.
Not surprisingly, when I got older (like about 15 or so), I began to chafe at the arbitrary $25 dollar limit. Every time I was asked what I wanted for Christmas the answer was simple. "A Porsche!"
One year, there was a little box under the tree from my brother and sister-in-law. The note said, "Since you ask for this every year, we all thought we'd chip in and comply." Was it a key? Was my Porsche sitting just down the street, out of sight?
No, it was in the box. It was a Matchbox Porsche. Everyone thought that was pretty funny. I didn't see the humor.
A couple of years later, a friend did indeed get a car from his parents for Christmas. I remember his mother saying somewhat sadly "But there's nothing under the tree for him." Too danged bad. He could have had "my" Porsche.
Of course, today that same 1970s era fire engine red Matchbox Porsche 910 is selling for big bucks on Ebay. Go figure.
Still I have to admit that I made out pretty well over the years. I usually got pretty good stuff and it was usually what I wanted. My parents didn't have a lot of money but at least they spent it wisely (by spoiling me!).
At least I never had a Christmas like one of my elementary school classmates. What happened to him made me feel so bad that I later took one of my new board games (Operation) and left it on his porch.
We were sitting around before class on the day that we all got back to school after Christmas break and naturally we were comparing how well we did on Christmas Day. That year, in addition to the $25 in Wish Book loot, I had also received a shiny new .22 hornet rifle with a scope and everything. I had already gone out target shooting and was looking forward to some deer hunting. I was feeling pretty flush.
One of my friends said all he had gotten that year was new socks. I thought he was kidding.
He rolled up one of his pant legs and showed us a shiny new white sock..
"And?" I remember saying.
"And what else did you get?" I pressed on.
He thought for a minute and rolled up the other pant leg.
I always knew that his family wasn't well off, but at that moment I realized that Christmas was really about giving what you could.
This year my four-year-old son is really interested in the idea of presents, Christmas and Santa Claus. He keeps asking what I want for Christmas, but that is only his way of bringing up the subject so that he can remind me of what he wants for the Christmas. I understand where's he coming from. It reminds me of me.
This week, he was nagging me to tell him what I "wanted" from Santa Claus. I thought for a minute.
"Socks," I replied.
My son thought for a minute. Then he rolled his eyes and made the little cute face that he always makes when he thinks it father is being "silly."
"Daddy," he said. "Thaaaaat's funny. Don't you want a castle?"
Now that I think about it,
it would be the biggest present under the tree.