I can't remember what age I was when I finally figured out that Santa claus was really Mom and Dad with the emphasis on Dad. Christmas Eve was an exciting night, and though we were considered to be living on poverty level, we were very rich and very fortunate. School was out for the week, and I can recall my Mom's christmas albums playing on the record player all day long. The tree never looked fuller, brighter, or more joyful, and the presents never looked more enticing, ingriguing, and mysterious. "Hmmm, I wonder what's in that big box?" my Mom often teased.
We often had artificial trees illuminated by one of those color wheels that rotated and cast a blue, red, green and golden glow over the tree and ornaments. I love blue, and that color was always the deepest shade. I could sit for the longest time watching the wheel slowly turn, waiting for the blue glow to fall over the tree.
Mom always made Christmas cookies and fudge every year. She made ham for Christmas Eve dinner. Following that was fruit salad which was her delicacy to baffle the finest chefs of Europe. People stood in line for Mom's fruit salad. Along with the ham and the fruit salad were green beans or corn. Homemade applesauce cake with whipped cream was the usual dessert.
Bedtime was around nine o'clock, and wonderful Christmas shows populated the air waves. On Christmas Eve, getting us into bed was Mom's chore. We were assured that if we didn't go to sleep, Santa would definitely skip our house. Remember warnings like "If you don't go to sleep, Santa won't come"? I sure do. Therefore, it was off to bed, not being able to sleep, but putting on the best impression ever. It seemed like every noise we heard was Santa and his reindeer landing on our house. What if your house didn't have a chimney? It didn't matter, Santa was the locksmith of the holiday season. It took a few years before I realized that Dad got an extra snack of milk and cookies before he went to bed that night.
The Great BB Gun Conspiracy
Not unlike the great film classic "A Christmas Story" where Ralphie wants his BB gun, I never did get mine. The old argument of "You'll shoot your eye out" was absolutely argued in our house. To be honest, I could have cared less about the BB's, I just wanted it for its air rifle capability. To be able to pump it up to maximum air level, then fire it with a loud Baaaang was all I was interested in. However, this is where the dilemma began: a kid down the street-who was a horrible monster-pumped his up and fired it at his sister's ear. Ever since, those guns were off limits to me. Sadly, the BB gun was a no-go...permanently.
According to Mom, play guns were okay with the exception of anything that fired any type of projectile that could be considered potentially harmful. This was interesting considering that they had given me a play cowboy pistol that actually fired plastic bullets for about a distance of six feet. I really loved this gun, but kept losing the bullets. I spent more of my time tracking down the shells behind sofas, and under tables for another reload. My brothers also had a lot of fun with this gun and proceeded to shoot the ornaments off our grandparents Christmas tree while everyone was in the kitchen playing cards.
My Wish Lists: what I got, what I did not
The G.I. Joe Sea Sled was something I really wanted one year. It was a fairly big toy, so the only place to use it would be the bath tub in winter, and an outdoor pool in the summer. Army toys were still very popular with me, and G.I. Joe was one of the most favorite toys that I can recall.
Anthing to do with army accessories, play sets, figures, or anything was numero uno on my list. I didn't get everything on my lists, not that my parents didn't try, it's just that some things were either too expensive, sold out, or weren't available in our area. I remember wanting a huge play set from the Louis Marx Co. called Battleground. This set came with tanks, trucks, army men, and all sorts of extras. It was a huge set, and a friend of mine had one. I never did get it. I fear now, that to this day, if I had one, I'd set it up and play with it!
Things I did get: A lot of G.I. Joe stuff, army toys, a G.I. Joe Astronaut and space capsule, a Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw set, a Lionel electric train, and from 1968 on, I got a Beatle album. The Beatle albums were always great to receive, and it was funny because I never knew which album they would choose. In 1968, it was "Revolver".
Things I didn't get were: an Aurora Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde model, a road race set, a German army helmet, a Remco giant Bazooka that fired real shells, and a puppy. (I never expected to get the puppy, but I had to put him on my list anyway just in case). I also wanted a mini bike, but I never got one of those either-not that I ever expected to. My brother Pat would eventually build that stuff anyway, so that part didn't matter.
Store Hours: Closed on Sunday
I think it's almost an impulse, or reflex in our modern world of today to think about buying online, or getting to the store in the wee hours to beat the crowds, but, back in the 60's, options were far and few between. The stores were open usually from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. and closed on Sundays. Saturday hours were even shorter, but I'm sure that during the Christmas season they were open a bit later. The stores were also closed during holidays; New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc. all saw store closures.
Again, I don't remember how old I was when I realized that Santa was not a real entity, but I can recall going to the local department store to see him and sit on his lap. For the shy kids like myself, sitting on the lap of a giant bearded guy dressed in red wasn't always the easiest thing in the world. My mind went blank, and I usually forgot what I wanted to tell him. I do remember that it didn't strike me odd at all that he could appear in so many stores at the same time. My parents explained this well with the following: "he's just one of Santa's helpers. The real Santa is the one that we took you to see." . Yes, that made sense.
Makin' Our Lists, Checkin' em Twice!
Toy commercials kept me, like most kids, tuned into the fabulous world of fantastic new inventions. I wanted so many of the exciting toys that appeared on TV. Some of them were really corny and too ridiculous to even consider. However, there were some pretty dynamite new toys that were on my 60's Christmas list! Army toys always headed the list; the "Vroom Engine" that you could put on your bike to make it look and sound like a motorcycle engine was perfect.
Girls had their own culture of toys that always seemed to lean toward dolls. I always wondered how girls could ever learn to manage themselves in the real world if they didn't know how to operate a machine gun, launch a spaceship, create their own rubber bugs, or build monsters. I realize now that girls had their own toys, but were learning valuable life skills with them. Girls learned how to raise children, but I never fired a machine gun or launched a space ship.
Barbie was, and still is, as timeless as her male competitor G. I. Joe. "Crissy" and "Chatty Cathy" dolls were pretty popular too. I believe that the Crissy doll was actually "Beautiful Crissy", but I'm not sure. Barbie's Dreamhouse was pretty much numero uno on our block. All the girls wanted one. Girls did like the Thingmakers too, and made their own Creeple Peeple and Creepy Crawlers. They liked board games just like us guys did, and it was all for the best, really, that we had our own separate cultures.
As for my list, I always wanted a road race set, but it was too expensive in competition with the other expensive army toys that headed my lists. Nothing was more important than the Mattel Tommyburst Machine Gun. I always wanted the brown Dick Tracy model, but the stores were sold out, so I got the green camo version instead. The green Tommy was equally beautiful, and came with a pair of binoculars and a camo case.
In 1962, I wanted the Tiger Joe Tank. This was a battery operated twenty-six inch monster that fired actual shells! I had a fascination with tanks, and something this big, that was remote controlled, and had big thick tracks, was too good to be true. Joe appeared under our Christmas tree that year and I was so excited I couldn't see straight!
The tank also made a really cool sound when moving, like some powerful engine that propelled it. It ran with a remote control, and I remember that it took a huge amount of batteries that were always running out because it was such a huge beast to power on battery strength alone.