1966 — Barry’s first Christmas. I’m 9 months old, so I have absolutely no memory of it, so technically it doesn’t belong in this “Christmas Memories” column.
Notable gift — If I had to guess I’d say clothing that’s both adorable and absorbent. Also, rather than unwrapping the gifts I probably put them in my mouth.
1972 — First time seeing snow on Christmas, a rare occurrence in the Deep South. There’s only about an inch on the ground, so the resulting snowman includes a liberal portion of yard debris and dirt, resulting in a decidedly un-snowy snowman. Really more of a very cold dirt-man. I could see where looking at such a snowman one could easily deem him “Parson Brown.”
Notable gift — Mittens. Well, gloves, actually, but I used them as mittens.
1971 — I watch in horror as a big family fight begins to percolate on Christmas Eve. My grandmother, one of the parties involved in the ensuing shouting match, realizes that this is no time for the regularly-scheduled family dust-up, as the wide-eyed kid (me) is about to be permanently traumatized. She looks over at me sitting on the couch, smiles, then turns back to the fray and cracks a joke. A joke! The air goes out of the situation immediately, like a Macy’s parade float being punctured. Of the many family fights I’d witness in years to come, none were ever cut off at the knees in this way.
This turned out to be one of the most formative moments of my life, as I learned that humor is an amazing way to dispel a tense situation. I also learned that humor is a great way to avoid having to deal with the deeper and more fundamental issues in life.
Notable gift — BB gun.
1972 — Lying in bed on the night of Dec. 24, I swear that I hear the sound of sleigh bells ringing outside my window. Seriously. Set up the lie detector, and I’ll strap myself in. The cynic would say that what I heard was probably the sound of our neighbor dumping his empty beer cans into the recycle bin and that my over-active Christmas-fueled imagination just made me hear what I wanted to hear. Well, this was Mississippi in 1972. The word “recycle” wasn’t in our dictionary. Neither, for that matter, was the word “dictionary.” In that place and time empty beer cans were not saved up in one place to be dealt with later, they were disposed of the way the good lord intended; individually, immediately after drinking and straight out the car window.
I sneaked out of bed to confirm what I just heard. And sure enough, walking into that room at pre-dawn, seeing new presents illuminated by the Christmas tree lights was nothing short of magical.
Notable gift — Fischer Price L’il Polygraph Test.
1973 — Yet again I hear a Santa noise outside of my window. I jump up to do a quick check on the living room where I discover my parents busily at work doing something unsettling. My father is moving things around under the tree, while my mother is trying to shove a Magic 8 Ball into my stocking. The ball is wider than the stocking mouth so she’s having some trouble. She quickly tells me that Santa was just here, that he stuffed the Magic 8 Ball into my stocking, and she was just trying to get it out to look at it to make sure it worked and I needed to go back to bed now.
Weird. I had no idea that Santa would come if people were still awake in the house. Guess that only applies to kids. Also, it never occurred to me that my parents actually had met Santa in person. Cool! It makes sense that he’d be able to put a toy into a receptacle where it doesn’t fit, though. A natural extension of his chimney-squeezing-down powers.
Notable gift — Concentrate and ask again.
1974 — Parents have “the talk” with me. The one about the non-existence of you-know-who. This news is devastating, unacceptable and unimaginable. I make a few jokes and pretend to have not heard what they just said.
Notable gift — “Childhood is over, sucker!” An exciting new board game, by Hasbro.
Barry Smith’s column appears on Mondays. More at http://www.barrysmith.com