I’ve been transferring old family slides into digital format the past few weeks, and I’ve come across some real gems. One of the things that struck me, especially when looking at photos like the one above, is that I wasn’t imagining it… Christmas felt different back then. And I think I know why.
Look at the expressions on the faces of my sisters and I. (My sister Shannon is on the far right, Colleen is in the middle, and I am the blondie on the left.) Christmas held a wonder for us that I just don’t see in the faces of my kids. Gifts didn’t have to be extravagant to get reactions like this:
This picture is blurry, so I have no idea what she just opened, but I can tell you, it wasn’t a $500 video game system. When was the last time your kids responded like this? I can’t think of the last time mine did.
Parker wants a WiiU. We have a Wii, but the new games he wants can only be played on the WiiU. $300.
Nathan wants a PS4. He has an XBOX 360 and a PS3, but those are considered old junk now. $500…if you can find one.
Eventually, they also want an XBOX One. It’s not their first choice, but, after all, the 360 is sooo outdated, eventually we will HAVE to get a new system for all those games we have.$400.
And yet, when I think back over my life, most of my favorite gifts cost less than $25. The year I turned 20, I had a jerky boyfriend who wasn’t around on Christmas and I was pretty bummed. I am the youngest in my family, so when I went up to my parents’ house, it was just the 3 of us for the first time ever. It was pretty depressing. That was until I opened a gift that my mother had gotten for me- Molly Ivins’ book, “Molly Ivins can’t say that, can she?” I started reading and soon I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. It saved me from the Christmas blues.
My childhood is filled with gifts that spurred my imagination and just looking at the pictures of them brings back memories of fun times. Some of these you may remember, some may be earlier than your time. These items represent my Christmases past.
What is more 70’s than an A-frame house? A turquoise and brown A-frame house. This toy reminded me of the cabins at the camp where my family spent a lot of my childhood, El Camino Pines near Frazier Park, California. We called it “Walton’s Mountain,” because much of the show was filmed up there.
I spent hours re-enacting episodes.
Many girls my age wanted Easy Bake ovens, but I had to have the Holly Hobbie Easy Bake oven.
If I’m being honest, I’m not sure a lot of baking went on after this Christmas morning. I seem to recall eating dry cake mix a lot. (If I ever start a career as a rapper, that could totally be my rapper name- Cake Mix-a-lot)
I was a big fan of Holly Hobbie. I’m guessing that’s why in so many pictures I have come across, my sisters and I are wearing bonnets. That, and “Little House on the Prairie.”
I also loved Colorforms, and one year I got a Holly Hobbie Colorform set exactly like this:
I spent hours arranging different scenes.
I was also a Barbie girl. Most of my Barbie stuff I seem to recall came on my birthday, but I do remember one Christmas I got the Ballerina Barbie.
I got it from my great grandma Lulu. (Her name was Mildred, but she came from Honolulu. It was our way of distinguishing her from another Grandma- Grandma Mexico, who, you guessed it, went to Mexico on vacation one time.)
We spent that Christmas in Laguna at my grandparents’ house.My Grandma Charlotte (who was just “Grandma”) had hidden the gifts under her bed. I couldn’t contain my curiosity, so I snuck a peek, and discovered by stealthily pulling down one end of the wrapped gift what it was. I was excited for the Barbie, but that taught me a lesson- it’s no fun to pretend to be surprised when you’ve already ruined it for yourself. I never did that again. I believe that was Grandma Lulu’s last Christmas with us.
Another “last Christmas” memory is from my dad’s dad’s final Christmas before succumbing to cancer.
We knew he was ill, and so we made the trip to the Bay area of Northern California, and my mom’s side of the family came as well. We showed up on Christmas Eve to discover he had not decorated the house for Christmas. There was no tree. He had thrown away all of his ornaments.
We got in the car and drove around looking for an open lot, but they were all closed. My father eventually hopped a fence and stole a tree. We went to 7-11 and bought flocking spray and tinsel. We went back to his house, put up and flocked the tree, and decorated it with snowflakes we cut out.
Because there were so many of us, several slept out in the living room. It was like a giant family slumber party. I had trouble sleeping, so I stayed awake playing with my yes and no book.
( I liked to challenge myself by getting the books that said they were for older kids.)
I spent hours playing with these books. Hangman, trivia questions, dot to dot.
Mastermind was fun too, but you had to have someone playing it with you, and as the youngest I was on my own a lot.
Not that we didn’t also have electronics.
My first electronic toy was Alfie.
Alfie was amazing. He beeped and booped when he turned on. I could change the game card and play all different sorts of games. When I was right, he be-booped in celebration. When I was wrong he did the “beee-booooo” of a disappointed robot.
I didn’t get the Coleco football game, but my sister Shannon did, and I often stole it from her.
Another cool electronic game that I had a lot of fun with was “Merlin.”
I don’t remember a lot about the games. I think there was tic tac toe, some sort of musical game, and I swear something like blackjack. Nothing like getting kids started gambling at a young age.
It wasn’t the most responsive game, and the buttons were tiny, but boy was it cool.
And then there was the Texas Instruments computer.
See that slot on the right? That’s where you put the “software” cartridges. I think mine came with TI Invaders, a knockoff of Atari’s Space Invaders.
Of course you didn’t need cartridges to play with this computer. It came with a programming code guide, so I taught it how to run programs that would guess math problems. All I had to do was copy the programs from the book and my parents and grandparents were amazed. Child prodigy, they said.
A few months later I was in our local Safeway (which also had laser discs for home rental at that time) and saw a bin filled with cartridges on sale. I bought myself the Alpine skiing game (it even had a yeti that would jump out. Strange, considering the yeti lives in the Himalayas and not the Alps).
Is that a buzzard flying across the screen?I never got this far
Notice the phenomenal graphics- In color!
Unfortunately for me, that sale bin was a sign of the end for the TI system. Within a year of getting it, they stopped making it and it’s accessories.
And then there was the Christmas of 1983.
Cabbage Patch Kids. People were going out of their minds in the hunt for these dolls whose butts bore the autograph of their creator, Xavier Roberts.
I was one of a million girls that year who put a Cabbage Patch doll on my Christmas list. My parents tried in vain to locate one, with no luck.
My mom, never wanting to disappoint, somehow managed to find a woman who made look-alike dolls. When I opened it Christmas morning, I remember feeling a mix of emotions. It wasn’t a legit CPK, but I knew somehow that it was more special. It represented my mom’s heart, and I was thankful for that. I named her Charlotte Claire after both of my grandmothers.
My sister Shannon, a senior in high school, was working at a store called Sprouse Reitz. For those who have never heard of it, Sprouse was a small department and drug store.
This past Thanksgiving the topic of Sprouse came up, and my sister swore she is still in possession of the horrid brown polyester uniform she had to wear while working there. With her name tag still on it.
Anyway, the day after Christmas, she went into work and they had received an unexpected shipment of Cabbage Patch Dolls.
I could have one if I wanted one.
I agonized over the decision, because I didn’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings. She said she understood, but I just wasn’t sure. In the end, I did get one, but it was never as precious to me as the doll my mom had made for me.
I get a little sentimental when I think about those Christmases. I think about the year my parents couldn’t afford to buy me the outfit from Laura Ashley that I wanted, so my mom went and bought the pattern and sewed it for me. She even sewed in a piece of ribbon that said “Laura Ashley” so it would look like a tag.
I think about that ratty leftover Christmas tree that my dad hopped a fence to steal, that was decorated with paper chains and homemade snowflakes, but stood tall in the center of a room full of people I loved. Some of those people were gone within 5 years, and we never had a Christmas with everyone like that again.
I try really hard to create special moments for my kids, but in the end, it never is about the gifts under the tree that stick with you. Memorable moments can’t be choreographed with the perfect music and candlelight. They just happen.