The only Christmas I remember getting everything I wanted was in 1975.
First, I was finally old enough (12) to not be so shallow and needy and get pissed off if I didn’t exactly what I wanted. Santa Claus and my parents and sisters were really good to me, but until 1975 I could still get worked up if the Erector Set I got wasn’t the 118-piece set with real electric motor. It was a relief to everyone, I’m sure, when I outgrew that crap.
Second, everybody came to our house that Christmas. My parents threw a big, all-day party every Christmas, but mostly neighbors and a few nearby relatives stopped in. Uncle Jim and Aunt Eileen Hennessy, the Nahers, Schepkers, and Gibbonses, Uncle Patrick Mahon. But in 1975, everyone came. The Rustiges, the Nagels, Uncle Gerry and Aunt Peggy. It was a party and a half.
Third, I got the magic kit I wanted. It had a book containing hundreds of magic tricks, dozens of props, and practice cards to teach you how to “own the stage.” I wanted that magic kit because I wanted to be Johnny Carson, and Johnny’s first stage act was The Great Carsoni, a magician. He performed at kids’ birthdays and stuff in Omaha, Nebraska. If magic could help Johnny overcome his shyness and master stage presence, then it could help me. And I got it.
But I got sick, too. I woke up Christmas morning knowing I was coming down with something. But I kept it to myself. As cool as it was that everyone was coming to the party and I got my magic set, my maximum happiness level was about 5 or 6 on a 10 scale.
About six o’clock, I went to my room without saying anything. I just wanted to lie down for a few minutes. I didn’t want my mom to know I felt sick, because I was afraid she’d make me stay in bed or send everybody home. So sneaked to my room and climbed in bed.
When I woke, my mom was sitting on the edge of my bed. Beverly Rustige was standing behind her. They both looked concerned.
“Are you alright?” my mom asked.
“Too much Christmas?” said Bev.
“I’m just tired,” I said.
My mom’s hand felt like ice when she put it on my forehead. “I better take your temperature,” she said.
Bev stared at me, smiling, while my mom went to find the thermometer. I didn’t care. If the whole party had stood around my bed and grinned, I wouldn’t have cared. Just so they don’t make me get up.
My temperature was 103. I wouldn’t return to the party, and that made me happy. Even though I was missing the party I’d looked forward to for weeks, even though half the people showed up after I went to bed, even though I couldn’t start learning magic tricks, I didn’t care. I was in bed. I could sleep. That’s all that mattered.
That was Christmas 1975.
In 2002, my boys were with me on Christmas morning. I got them an X-Box and bunch of other stuff. Usually, they were with their mom Christmas Eve and didn’t get home until noon or so. This year, they stayed with me on Christmas Eve, so I got one last shot at a big deal Christmas morning before Jack was too old to act like a kid.
I also got to decorate the house the way I wanted. The tree, the lights–everything. I got to spoil my boys that year because I had a great job and no one to tell me “no.”
That was a great Christmas, too, mostly because I spent the whole Christmas season making something special for my kids. And that Christmas in 1975 was so great, not because of the magic set, but because of the magic of people. I never regretted missing most of the party.
And that’s why Christmas 2013 is so important. The kids aren’t really kids anymore at our house. Some of them are practically my age. They grow up fast, which is a useless thing to say. No one understands what “they grow up fast” means until the youngest one would rather hang out with his friends than open Christmas presents at home. That happens about thirteen.
Then you suddenly realize that the best Christmas your kids will remember from their childhood already happened.
Don’t miss it.