A toyless Christmas


Ask any parent. There’s just about nothing better than watching a child’s face on Christmas morning.

Parents, awakened early, are dragged out of bed and pulled down hallways by children excited to see if Santa actually stopped by their house during the night.

Smiles on little faces seem to grow wide with wonder as each present under the Christmas tree is unwrapped and revealed.

Yes, the face of a child on Christmas morning is truly unforgettable, and it’s almost always happy — almost.

Those seven years my three brothers, The Sister and me spent growing up at 110 Flamingo Street were just as special. Except, of course, when I turned 10. That was the year we all received the worst presents kids could imagine – or so we thought.

That was the year Twin Brother Mark wanted another Slinky because his had been destroyed. Who knew there were limitations to what a Slinky could do? A Slinky can walk down steps, stretch out 10 feet if twirled over your head at a high rate of speed, and even come back to you if you throw it at your brother as long as you hold onto one end. It can even be used to knock your brother off his bike when stretched between two trees.

What it can’t do is be un-stretched after being stretched between two trees. Alas, Mark didn’t get his new Slinky that year.

That was the year Big Brother James asked for a new bike. It seemed that someone had destroyed his by trying an ill-fated jump over the bend in Cripple Creek behind Old Mrs. Crabtree’s house. With a broken frame and bent front wheel, the bike was beyond repair, and a replacement was definitely in order.

I didn’t admit to anything back then and am not admitting to anything now. After all, he’s not called Big Brother James because he’s tiny. Still, that year, James didn’t get his bike for Christmas either.

That was the year The Sister had asked for replacement Barbie dolls. Somehow her entire collection had been destroyed due to various misfortunes.

Many went on test flights propelled by slingshots. Yes, Barbies can fly over a hundred feet up into the air. No, they can’t survive the landing.

Others were drafted into the great dirt clod battle of ‘68 that pitted them against our collection of little green army men. The battle was horrific, and very few Barbies survived. Those that did were buried in our backyard.

Why were the survivors buried? I don’t really remember – that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. That year, The Sister didn’t get her new Barbie collection.

That was the year I wanted a gas-powered airplane on a string – two strings to be precise. After years of Super Balls bouncing down Flamingo Street, water-powered rocket ships blasting off in our front yard, boomerangs NOT coming back, and my climbing countless trees to retrieve misguided kites, arrows and frisbees, I was ready for a toy that couldn’t get away.

Yep, standing still as you hold onto the 20-foot strings of a gas-powered airplane while watching it fly circles around you had to be one of the greatest presents for a 10-year-old kid.

First on my list was a BB rifle, but Dad said I’d probably shoot my eye out. (I’m still trying to figure out how.) Still, that was the year I didn’t get a BB rifle or a gas-powered airplane on a string.

The year I’d turned 10, the space under our Christmas tree was completely filled with every sized box imaginable. My brothers, The Sister and I rushed in, retrieved the presents with our names and waited until our parents sat down with their coffee before tearing off wrapping paper.

Just imagine the expressions on our faces as we opened box after box only to find not a single toy. Instead, the presents my parents had given us were shirts, pants, bath items, and worst of all – underwear. After unwrapping all of my boxes, I still remember saying, “Good joke, Dad. Where are all our toys?”

Over 47 Christmases have now come and gone, but I’ve never forgotten that morning when there were no toys under our tree.

Times were hard and our parents were unable to buy any of the gifts we’d asked for: a Slinky, a new bike, a replacement Barbie collection, or even a gas-powered airplane on a string.

Instead, with little money to spare, they had given great thought as they chose what each one of us actually needed.

Now, I finally realize it’s what made those presents that year some of the best I’ve ever received.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is storiesbyrick@gmail.com. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]