Christmas presents of the past can be a big indicator of the future.
By Nancy Ford
What is it about this time of year that makes us—well, okay, me—giddier than a four-year-old on Santa’s lap? As if by genetic, ingrained habit, moments after the last carved Halloween pumpkin head implodes upon itself, my sleep patterns change, I am distracted from the easiest of tasks, and just generally find myself moving through the day with an additional skip to my step, heady with anticipation of the parties and luncheons and accompanying year-end hoopla.
This giddiness might be traced to my childhood gift-getting experiences. What kid doesn’t wait with exquisite antici … pation to tear into that wrapping that’s concealing our fondest dreams and wishes?
Looking back, it’s impossible not to recognize the many unmistakable little clues wrapped in tissue paper and foil—warnings, some might say—of what my future would bring.
My earliest holiday memory is of my third Christmas. I think it’s a memory; maybe the real memory is seeing that black-and-white Kodak snapshot with the scalloped edges of myself standing in front of the Christmas tree in my pajamas and the tap shoes I wore day and night, scowling.
Either way, I swear I recall unwrapping the big rectangular box I’m holding in the picture. Inside the box was the most pristine baby doll you’ve ever seen, complete with moveable arms and legs, hairplugs, and those creepy blue eyes that opened and closed depending on whether the doll was sitting up or laying down. My mother still tells the story that I never even took the doll out of the box—a big clanging alarm that traditional wife-and-motherhood was not in my future. Even at age three, I had enough sense to know not to reproduce. Gay Clue Number 1.
By the time I hit the third grade, the Super Duper Blooper Gun topped my de rigueur letter to Santa. Load it with ping-pong balls, pump the pressure cylinder, aim at my sister’s Barbie Dream House because I was playing the Ken role. Gay Clue Number 2.
In sixth grade I got a football for Christmas—a white one, because my mother thought white was more feminine than traditional pigskin brown. That same year I got a purse—a brown leather one, ironically enough. It was not large enough to carry my football, so I had about as much use for it as I had for that creepy blue-eyed, hair-plugged baby doll. Gay Clues Number 3 and 4.
Almost every year, one of my standard childhood holiday gifts was being allowed to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s at my grandparents’ house. For a full week I didn’t have to compete with my five siblings, and would revel in the one-on-one attention my grandmother and grandfather would shower on me. They lived in a very Mayberry-esque little village called Columbiana, a tiny town with about 10 churches and one bar. During the day I would bundle up, pull on my tan mittens with the knit backing and leather palms and make the four-block trek to Cunningham’s Drug Store, where I would read the newest Archie comic book while sipping a chocolate malt at the counter.
Obviously, I wasn’t kidding about the Mayberry part.
On one of those visits, I recall my grandmother saying the three of us were going out for dinner. I took a bath, got dressed, shook up my grandfather’s can of Barbesol, smeared it on my face, and shaved it off with his Remington razor. Then I shook some of his new Brut aftershave into my little palms and splashed it on my face in prophetic butch fashion, immediately emitting a scream that no doubt the Cunninghams could hear those four blocks away. Gay Clue Number Five.
Another firmly fixed memory is the year I received my first Beatles album, the one called Something New, Something New. It was a gift from my step-grandmother whom we called Aunt Ruth (I know; that confused me, too), who ran a fake fishing worm business out of her basement, kind of an adult version of Mattel’s Creepy Crawlers. While not necessarily a “Gay Clue” per se, the unspeakably unappealing intertwined smells of roast turkey and melting plastic still lingers in my olfactory memory whenever somebody says “Butterball.” It also taught me never to mix fragrances. Which is kind of gay.
My memory mostly fades when trying to recollect Christmas presents I received beyond junior high, with a few exceptions, like the year I received an engagement ring from my husband-to-be. We all know how that story worked out. Maybe if my mother had whipped out that scowling black-and-white Kodak snapshot, she would have saved us all a lot of time and trouble.
Today, most of my gift-giving and -getting has turned to the practical: gift cards, nights out on the town—all for which I’m extremely grateful. The best Christmas gift I could possibly receive is for my friends and family to be happy and healthy.
Oh yes, and peace on earth. Nothing gay about that.