[audio mp3="https://www.ourstate.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/DEC21-EH-Christmas-in-Toyland.mp3"][/audio] I can’t forget the big gifts, the ones that made it from my wish list to under the tree, the ones that made me buzz with excitement
I can’t forget the big gifts, the ones that made it from my wish list to under the tree, the ones that made me buzz with excitement on Christmas morning: Barbie’s three-story town house with its fancy scrollwork elevator that ascended with a drawstring; the Sit ’N Spin on which I twirled for hours on the kitchen floor; the Schwinn Fair Lady with its gleaming whitewall tires; the Baby Alive doll with its packets of food mix and extra set of diapers.
Not yet fully awake, my mom and dad sat together on the couch, drinking coffee and quietly exchanging the gifts they’d gotten each other. Big gifts make an impression, but it’s the smaller ones I remember now — the leather moccasin slippers my mom gave my dad every year to replace the ones with holes worn through the soles; the jar of hand cream he gave her to soothe her winter-chapped hands.
Before the living room floor became covered with shreds of wrapping paper, my dad steered my mom and me toward our Christmas stockings, the ones he filled himself: a bottle of Estée Lauder Youth-Dew and Lady Gillette razors for her, the same every year, but tucked into mine were simple surprises, old-timey toys I hadn’t even known to wish for.
Here lived the nonelectric toys, the ones that didn’t need batteries, the ones without cords to plug in or parts to connect. An egg of Silly Putty, a Blues Band harmonica, a plastic spud gun. With each toy, my dad leaned in, showing me how to press the putty onto a newspaper comic strip and stretch out Snuffy Smith’s face; how to blow into the numbered holes of the harmonica; how to spear a potato in just the right way to make a pellet. Together, we launched Arrowcopters across the room with rubber bands. I’d spend half an afternoon trying to get my Duncan Imperial yo-yo to “walk the dog” — watch me, Dad, watch me!
As a teenager, when the big gifts were no longer toys but sweaters or cassette tapes, my dad still filled my stocking with a tin of jacks or a deck of cards, offering to spend an afternoon showing me how to play solitaire. In my 20s, when the big gifts were no longer toys but cash to help with rent, I’d find, shoved into the toe, multicolored Pez dispensers, a wooden Jacob’s ladder, a metal Slinky. He kept it going, every year, into my 30s, into my 40s, for as long as he could.
Of course, I outgrew the Speak & Spell, the Lite-Brite, the Easy-Bake Oven. The Atari 2600 video game console is long gone, as is the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine, the Casio digital watch. But somehow, those simple toys inside my stocking outlasted everything else. Every now and then, all these years later, I’ll come across something tucked away in a shoebox, at the back of a desk drawer, and it hits me as a surprise every time, the discovery of one of these small stocking stuffers that I never parted with — a rubber Super Ball, a wooden triangle peg game, an old yo-yo. I loop the string around my finger and flick my wrist, dropping the spool the way my dad taught me — watch me, Dad, watch me — and those childhood joys come right back. The gift of memory. The string pulls and the yo-yo spins and hovers above the ground before it snaps back toward my palm. I catch it and hold on for just a second before I release it again.
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