My golden age of Christmas gifts ran from roughly age 8 to 13. After that, I really didn’t ask for any big ticket items anymore, since I knew my parents weren’t buying me a car, and my list was dominated by clothes, books, and such. Those pre- and early teen years, though, were filled with items I dreamt about for months before they finally arrived. Here are a few of my all-time favorites:
1979: Mattel handheld, electronic football. Star Wars Millennium Falcon. The football game was a surprise gift from my uncle in New York and my first entry into the digital world. Also my first experience with carpal tunnel syndrome! The Falcon was a pipe-dream thrown on the list to see how guilty my parents felt. They had just ended separation #1 and would be divorced by the following Christmas. I was a Star Wars freak, like most eight year olds at the time were, and figured, “Why not?” I remember my dad taking me to Sears and making me sit in the car in the rain for an hour while he was getting my mom “some towels”. The “towels” turned out to be the Holy Grail of late 70s gifts.
1980: My parents divorce became official two weeks before Christmas. I knew I was going to strike the mother-load as everyone in the family tried to ease my pain. (Like I cared whether my parents were together or not.) This year was bittersweet too, though, since I also knew that our already meager financial status was going to get worse as one income disappeared from the household GDP. I was taking whatever I got, because who knows when I’d next clean up. I did end up getting a lot of sweet stuff that year, but what I remember most is what I didn’t get: an Imperial AT-AT from The Empire Strikes Back. An aunt and uncle went to get one for me, but all the stores they went to were sold out. They gave me a card saying my AT-AT would arrive sometime in January. January came and went, I cried when the 49ers beat the Cowboys, but I never got that AT-AT. Shortly after, I wrote off all things Star-Wars.
1982: Dungeons & Dragons. My mom had read the novel about kids playing D&D, freaking out, and going on killing sprees or something, so as I discovered Tolkien and D&D in the fall of ’82, she kept insisting that I shouldn’t even bother putting the game on my Christmas list. I listed it anyway, and the same aunt and uncle who failed to deliver the AT-AT produced the basic D&D box on Christmas morning, much to my mom’s chagrin. What was fun about this gift was we had all been out at Crown Center in KC shopping together (back when it was a whole mall rather than just a few shops) and I saw the D&D box in one of my aunt’s bags. I pretty much knew I was getting it for a month, which made the anticipation even more pronounced, but I also wondered if it might not actually be for someone else. Sadly, I never lost my mind and wandered in the sewers answering only to the name Frodo during my brief D&D career.
1983: Banner year. I received a Pioneer boombox; ten cassettes (Not albums, not CD, but cassettes) including Journey, Foreigner, Men at Work, and Pat Benatar; and the early 80s Holy Grail, an Atari 2600. I was a year, if not two, behind pretty much all of my friends in getting my Atari, but then that’s what you get for living with a single mom, I guess. I remember that Christmas being bitterly cold, so rather than enjoying the vacation playing football and basketball with my neighborhood chums, I sat in my beanbag playing Pitfall, Pole Position, and Q*Bert while working through my new tape collection for hours on end.
1984: I asked for, and received, an electric typewriter. If there was any doubt I should have gone to J-school as an undergrad, here was the earliest sign. Also, I think this explains why girls pretty much didn’t talk to me until I was a junior in high school. It’s tough to overcome being tall, skinny, wearing thick glasses, and admitting that you wanted a typewriter for your big Christmas gift.
In my wife’s family, we pick names so you don’t have to buy gifts for nine other people. I’m not sure if it’s a function of our age (everyone over 21 now) or just the times we live in, but no one requests cool things. Gloves, candles, maybe a scarf. Oh, cologne of course. It seems that if we want something fun, like an iPod, a PS2, or whatever, we go buy it for ourselves when the mood strikes rather than wait for Christmas. I certainly could have waited to get my iPod, and it would have been super cool to find one under the tree Saturday morning. I suppose that’s yet another reason why I’m excited to be a dad. In a couple more years, M. will drive my insane for two months telling me everything she wants from Santa. But then the payoff will come when she opens her gifts Christmas morning and I see the excitement, wonder, and pure joy I haven’t had since I was a kid.