Another Christmas is behind us and I hope it left you with rich memories, and a little money in your bank account.
Christmas means many things to many people and those perceptions change as we age. But I think my favorite part is seeing the twinkle in a child’s eyes as they tear open a gift, or their wonder when they receive something special.
It reminds me of Christmas Eves when I was young. Thinking back to those years, I believe I annually experienced some kind of anxiety attack as I waited for everyone to get done eating, for the ladies to wash the dishes, and then for everyone to get settled, before my siblings and I could dig into our gifts. Really. It just about drove my crazy, to the point that sometimes I thought they took just a little extra time just to see how much we’d squirm.
I don’t remember any surprises that really knocked my socks off. But that was probably because my mom was really good at listening when we’d set down long before Christmas and flip through the Sears or JC Penny’s Christmas catalogue time after time. Plus, my parents let us pick out one toy of our choice every year, as long as it was within reason, and my grandparents gave us $50 each year to pick out clothing we desired.
But that didn’t make the anticipation any less when Christmas Eve rolled aground – probably because I marked so many things I wanted in those “wish books” that I had no idea what I was really going to get.
There were a few gifts, though, that particularly stick in my mind.
When I was probably 7 or 8, around the time Apollo 11 landed on the moon, I received this astronaut set. I can’t remember what it was called, but I can see some of the pieces like they’re in my hand. The set had this little battery-powered character, maybe two of them, with three vehicles. One was a rocket-like thing, one was like a lunar rover, and the other one escapes me. But when you turned the characters on and slid them into their seats, they powered the vehicles. Besides most any ball, they might be the favorite toy I ever had.
Then again, Talking Football was pretty close. I had two sets of it – one originally and another after the first one wore out – but I think they might have been birthday presents.
On Christmas night during my growing up years we always spent the evening with my mom’s family. There are four of us male cousins about the same age and we exchanged gifts every year. Almost every year we got each other tube socks. It might seem a trivial gift, but I always looked forward to that pair of tube socks.
In fact, it’s still one of my favorite things my wife gets me each year (even if I have to remind her). But since we usually get our boys new socks, it’s pretty easy to drop a hint that I’d like some, too. In fact, I usually hint enough that she tells me to just grab some for myself, too. Which is exactly how things unfolded this year.
I can’t help it. I’m a traditionalist. I don’t like a lot of change. So every year I want some new socks for Christmas – and only a particular brand will do.
As I was nearing puberty in the seventh grade, my mom and I had looked through the “wish book” several times. I think she had me look through an extra time or two because each time we shuffled through the pages, the one thing I wanted for the special gift was Fort Apache. It was a cowboy and indian set with a fort, and I really liked my cowboys and indians.
But my dad thought I was too old for such childish toys. So, after trying to persuade me to pick something else from the catalogue and seeing that I was determined, my mother finally said, “Alright, but you’ll have to ask your dad.” I didn’t like that idea, but I really wanted Fort Apache, so one day I summoned the courage to ask. And sure enough, when Christmas Eve rolled Fort Apache was among the gifts I opened.
My wife has purchased several nice Christmas presents for me throughout the years. But I remember one particularly well.
We were doing our Christmas morning routine when an oddly shaped gift was passed my way. When I opened it I must have had a dumb look on my face because my wife said she could tell right away that I didn’t like it.
The truth is that the look on my face was more one of confusion, because I had no idea what the thing was. It was a ceramic thing that looked like one of those whiskey jugs on old Mountain Dew commercials. And it was decorated in Ohio State colors.
Since I like anything Ohio State, I figured it would look good with my other OSU memorabilia, but I still didn’t know what in the world it was supposed to be used for. So I guess the “confused” look on my face lasted long enough that my wife was convinced I didn’t like the thing – and that even if I didn’t like it, my response was not appropriate.
It turns out that the thing was supposed to be used as a place to deposit cigarette butts, rather than throwing them in the yard outside my garage. It was an unusual gift from my wife, but after a time I became quite fond of the jug. Then one day I did something that displeased my wife. A short time later I walked outside to find my jug in several pieces with cigarette butts scattered about, and it was obvious that the jug’s demise was not an accident. To make sure she got her point across, my wife left the mess where it laid until I decided to pick it up, then while I was picking up the pieces she reminded me that I didn’t like the thing anyway.
I started to respond, but learned long before that it’s best to keep my mouth shut in such situations and act like a scolded puppy.
I learned another less that day – when opening gifts, no matter what you get, smile, really big, like it’s the most awesome thing you ever received, even if it’s a goofy-looking jug. You’ll be better off in the long run.
Happy new year.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.