The Cotton Christmas


For those seven magical years growing up at 110 Flamingo Street, each holiday was wrapped up in family traditions – some good and some not so good.

At the top of the list of those “not so good” traditions was the great toy giveaway. Ours was the only house on Flamingo where Santa Claus visited not once but twice a year. He only gave presents on one of those visits. On the other he took all our old toys away.

Each Christmas, Santa brought us everything we’d bugged our parents for throughout the year — but only if we had given all our old toys away first.

What happened the only year we didn’t? Under the tree were more presents than ever before. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a single toy inside all those wrapped boxes. Instead the boxes were filled with underwear, T-shirts, socks, pants, and shirts.

For my three brothers, The Sister, and me, it was the worst Christmas ever. We knew it was because each of us had hidden a few of our best toys to keep. We learned our lesson.

Until we left Flamingo, when Santa asked, we gave up all of our toys. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned the truth about the Cotton Christmas.

The great toy giveaway always came the first of June. By then our parents had repeated the phrases, “Pick up your toys,” and “Whose toy did I just step on?” about a hundred times. Dad brought home boxes from the Farmers Market and Mom got hers from the grocery store.

For the next week, we picked up and packed up every Barbie, Tinker Toy, Lincoln Log, marble, little green army man, and any other toy we could find. Our parents said Santa needed them so they could be re-gifted at Christmas to other kids not as fortunate as us. After giving away all of our toys, none of us felt fortunate.

With all the outside summer adventures and misadventures living on Flamingo always brought, we soon forgot about the loss of our toys. No one, not even The Sister, wanted to be stuck inside playing when the Great Outdoors awaited.

The fun was outside — like climbing up and then riding trees back down to the ground, skipping rocks across the fishing lake behind our house, or jumping bikes across Cripple Creek, not inside playing with Barbies, something I never did.

Barbie’s head is the perfect weight and size for a slingshot. Not that I’m admitting anything mind you, but Barbie’s head propelled by a slingshot will go about 100 feet before suddenly stopping. That’s the farthest Down the Street Bully Brad could run before I nailed him with my pockets full of Barbie head ammo.

Throughout the year, we still received toys for our birthdays, and each Christmas the room where our tree stood overflowed with new toys from Santa. Except, of course, that one Cotton Christmas.

It wasn’t until I had a family of my own when I asked Dad what truly happened that year that he finally answered. There have been few times I’ve seen my dad surprised, humbled, or sad, but never at the same time.

He slowly looked away and said, “Didn’t realized any of you remembered that. It was so long ago. That was the year we almost lost everything. To be honest, it was all we could afford, and it’s what y’all needed. Your mom and I didn’t want you kids to wake up and find nothing under the tree.”

Dad didn’t see me cry that night, but cry I did. It was me who protested the loudest that Christmas so many years ago. “Where are our presents?” I said over and over that day till I went to bed.

This year the Wife and I are starting a new holiday tradition around our house with our granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline. The soon-to-be 5- and 4-year-olds need to learn about the great toy giveaway.

We’ll spend the next few weeks sorting through and boxing up all their gently used toys, stuffies, and games. We’re going to give them back to Santa so other little girls and boys will have something under the tree come Christmas morning — except maybe all those headless Barbies.

Why are most of our Barbies headless? Don’t ask me — ask the girls. And when you find out where all of them are hidden, please let me know. I’d like to have a supply of head ammo ready. Never know when Bully Brad might come lurking about.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog:]