Pal Matt warned me that the first Christmas with the Kid would be a bit wild, and he was right.
The past couple of weeks have been a manic quest to obtain the stuff she both wants and needs. She herself was guarded and non-committal about it at first, but eventually succumbed to the spirit of the season and dedicated a few hours and journal pages towards a semi-comprehensive wish list. (“But I still want to be surprised,” she added for emphasis.)
Maura and I believe we’ve hit our targets along those lines, within the giddy parameters of “first holiday season with a new daughter who is also the only kid in the house.” Being on the parental side of process got me to thinking about my own wishlist-making years and the more memorable items in my youthful holiday hauls.
The tricky part was separating Christmas gifts from birthday presents from random acts of parental (or grandparental) indulgence. I’m pretty sure most of my major Star Wars toys were birthday presents, and family’s Sears 2600 clone was unexpectedly bestowed upon us by my Grandpa Charlie. There are more than a couple Christmases — especially in my tweens and early teens — where I can’t recall any gifts of note, which can probably be chalked up to the gift certificate trend hitting its stride during those years.
What follows is a brief rundown of some notable things I do remember.
The Fisher-Price Sesame Street playset was the first big Christmas gift I remember receiving, but for a really strange reason. The box had a distribution label on the side which stated “Sesame Street, NY” along with a string of numbers. It was clearly some kind of Sears warehouse tracking thing, but my neurotic post-toddler brain took it to mean that it was supposed to be for the real Sesame Street and Santa dropped it off under our tree by mistake. I could only be convinced to open the package after a long explanation from my exasperated mother.
The smaller bits and bobs from it soon scattered to the winds of rough play, though the building itself managed to hang in there through the mid-Eighties, where it served as the bridge of a makeshift GI Joe aircraft carrier Lil Bro and I made from a old sled. I’ve flirted with the idea of hunting down a semi-complete replacement for it, but have so far settled for a couple of the original figures.
The 1978 release (with actual modern minifigs instead of faceless prototype jobbers) of the Lego Coast Guard Station was #1 on my Christmas list that year, and I was over the moon when it actually ended up under the tree. I want to say the set was my introduction to minifigs, but I’m pretty sure I had a solitary astronaut from a previously gifted small space set. The set was built “correctly” once before getting stripped for parts to build various crazy quilt monstrosities. The minifigs’ torsos and other stickered bits got incredibly grimy after a few months of play, but the blue baseplate survived into my teens.
1982 was the Year of the Joe, and all I wanted for that Christmas was the reborn franchise’s marquee vehicle — a battery-powered faux M1 Abrams tank. Honestly, I probably coveted the exclusive driver figure as much as I did the vehicle itself. I’d already copped wise to the whole Santa jive, so I lobbied my poor parents relentlessly about getting a MOBAT as my big gift.
It seemed like it was in the bag, so imagine my expression when the toy did not manifest under the tree on Christmas morning. Even worse, all the toys Lil Bro had asked for had appeared, making me wonder if I was being punished for something. It wasn’t until after my parents woke up and the unwrapping phase began that I discovered that my grandfather had bought MOBATS for both Lil Bro and me out of “fairness.”
My dad filled me in on the details when Lil Bro was out of earshot. “Ma and I drove over trying to find the damn thing, and once we did Charlie told us he already got you one. Don’t blame us.” He’d recount the story, occasionally swapping in Star Wars or superheroes for G.I. Joe, a few dozen times over the following thirty-five years. He’d also use it as an excuse for not putting much thought into gift-buying.
My parents gave me a surplus M65 field jacket as my big Christmas present in ninth grade. That sounds a little tragic, but I really wanted one. My paternal hero worship was at a peak along with cultural fetish for military fashions in general. It was warm (especially with the insulated liner my dad snagged from the armory during his National Guard days), it had plenty of handy pockets, it could be worn while biking, and it became a fixture of my cold weather look until I switched to a punk leather jacket in my late teens.
A pair of shitty leather work gloves and a cut-out bin cassette of Chuck Berry’s greatest hits were what I got for gifts on the last Christmas before my mom passed away. I wasn’t expecting anything, to be honest. My dad was pulling a month in a drunk tank and my mom was laid up with what she called “agoraphobia” but was really fear of being too far from a gallon jug of port wine. My concern, under her shaky direction, was to make sure Lil Bro’s holiday was decent — scraping together enough to pick him up some cheap shit from the toy store’s clearance aisle and a tiny Christmas tree from a nearby florist.
I wasn’t expecting anything, which made these two token gifts all the more meaningful. Even at their lowest point, my parents managed to do something…and it gave me a little spark of hope, no matter how short lived it turned out to be.