The Local Voice

The View from the Balcony: “Ghosts of Christmas’ Past”


The Rockwellian lights on The Square set the stage for a sentimentalized, romanticized holiday season. Let’s face it, though. Most of our Christmases are more like The Christmas Story than White Christmas.

Like most who celebrate Christmas, I have many fond memories of Christmas’ past, and I have a few clunkers. My parents grew up in the Great Depression and were close to the age of most of my friends’ grandparents, so I never got that over-the-river-and-through-the-woods-to-grandmother’s-house-we-go experience. I was jealous.

We had the typical small-town bathrobe-and-sandals-small-town-church re-enactment of the Christmas story. I wanted to be a part so I volunteered to play my cornet while the choir sang “Away in a Manger.” They sang it in the key of C. I played it in B-flat. My dad said it sounded weird. I told him I was a pioneer in experimental church music. He told me to experiment somewhere else.

My school had a holiday play in which I was the star. No kidding. I played Santa’s son, Willie Claus, who saved Christmas. My satin outfit was green with white fur and I wore red leotards and boots. I have a picture. Ain’t about to share it.

On Christmas of 1961 I got a Robot Commando (batteries not included). It was cutting edge Ideal Toy Corporation technology. It had a remote control (with a wire). It would move forward or backward, turn left or right, throw ping-pong bombs out of both arms, and even lift its skull to fire a rocket. It was exactly what I wanted!

Trouble was, my father and my brother liked it, too. They took forever to figure out how to work the thing, and when they did, they kept on playing with it. Finally, I spoke up. “Hey, that’s my toy! I wanna play with it!” My father, an Air Force Major, barked at me, “Shut up or you’ll never get to play with it!” Being the compliant-by-force child I was, I shut up and reached for my Christmas stocking.

My stocking had the obligatory oranges and raisins, but we also got fireworks, Hershey’s kisses, walnuts (love me some walnuts!), and a small bottle of olives. I hate olives. It took me until 1973 to convince my mother not to put olives in my stocking. The first time she didn’t I hugged and kissed her for it. She was clueless.

I grew up on Westerns. One of my favorite Christmas gifts EVER was my Have Gun Will Travel set (look it up), complete with two six-shooters and holsters, a black hat, and calling cards for Wire Paladin. Boy, howdy, did I look wicked! The only problem was that I had a foot disorder and had to wear corrective shoes. Gunslingers died laughing before I could shoot them.

One year my sister, Nancy, and I got identical portable Singer record players and cheesy Christmas albums (that’s redundant, ain’t it). It didn’t take us long to replace those records with hip music from the likes of Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Herman’s Hermits, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and The Monkees. It was on that little crappy record player that I listened to my first true rock album, Born to Be Wild (Steppenwolf). My record player broke shortly after that. I suspect covert parental intervention.

When I was in my 20s my mother decided to bake a birthday cake for Jesus at Christmas and have us all sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Nancy and I looked at each other with a what-the-hell look on our faces. It wouldn’t have been so weird had we grown up doing that. I thought, “Why bring Jesus into this now?”

Here we are again—another season of good cheer. Lucy from Peanuts called Christmas the “gift getting season.” Who doesn’t like getting? But giving is even better.

The season’s message is still “Peace on Earth, good will toward all.” The funny thing about the intangible gifts of love, kindness, friendship, peace, and joy is that the more you give them away the more you have. Regardless of religion or lack thereof, you can’t go wrong with those gifts. Let’s all put some peace and good will out there this year. We sure could use it.

Now, pinch your cheeks to make them rosy and sing along with me: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas . . .”

And that’s the view from The Balcony. 

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