The Perfect Christmas
December 25, 1972, Christmas Day when I was 7 years old was just about the most perfect day I’ve ever had. I really cannot remember a lot of the details, except the one that has continued to make me smile for decades since.
My God there it was, my mom had gotten me Electric Football- or was it Santa? It didn't really matter. What mattered was that it was there.
Electric football was a game with a steel “football field” and a vibrating surface that was about as subtle as a hand grenade going off when you turned it on. The unforgettable buzz was intense and loud. Sometimes the players went where they were supposed to but just as often they would go in circles or go the wrong way altogether. I played game after game with my brother Scott and he taught me a few ‘tricks’ about making the players go the right direction. He actually taught me a lot of things over the years about the how the world worked in his estimation. I’ve found as the years go by most of his insights were on the money.
I don’t recall now whether or not I asked for the timeless game but if I did I’m sure I saw it in the Official Kids Book of Dreams, better known as the Sears Catalog. Every great toy a kid could dream about or dare ask the old elf for were contained in those magical pages. It was bigger than a phone book and kids head could literally explode conceiving of all the possibilities contained within. I’d pour over those pages for hours with fantasies dancing in my head and reviewing each toy as to it’s chance of making it under the tree. At school my friends and I would cover the details of each possible choice and who would be asking for what.
The roaring buzz of Electric Football was finally too much for my mother after a few days, even though she bought it. Our championship games were relegated to the basement from that point on. Scott finally lost interest in football after a few days and I was left to devise match-ups between the deeply despised Dallas Cowboys and a variety of more worthy teams, most often that was the Los Angeles Rams. I spent hours in the basement, which was not what you might imagine. It was more like a dungeon on many days. It was not the finished masterpieces of today but rather a somewhat damp, dark holding cell made of concrete blocks where I would fritter away days and weeks and months in the throws of a little boys imagination. I passed my eighth and ninth birthdays painting each plastic figure using toothpicks and a lot of patience. I wish I still had those players. They took me weeks to perfect and I’ve gotta say I did a damn nice job making them looking like Tony Dorsett, or Jack Youngblood or even Mean Joe Green.
We didn’t have the electronic imagination thieves, like the ones we issue en masse to our kids today, that write the stories of our childhoods. We had to rely on ourselves for the storylines and the characters of the tales we would weave in our heads of the far off lands of make believe that would entertain us not just for a day or a week but often for years.
As I lined up the tiny gladiators on the Electric Football field, I would write the story of a grand championship and last minute heroics and incredible comebacks that would fill my head with images far larger than life. I was the hero of many of the grand stories- usually as the mastermind coach, directing players to the miracle finish in front of the cheering crowd. I would tear away from my sideline duties but only for the most basic of needs.
It never occurred to me in those simple, innocent countless hours spent in the basement that I was somehow privileged or that simply by being born white, I was destined to be blamed for everything wrong in the world.
Our home was a simple farmhouse. We didn’t have color TV and we didn’t have a new car in the driveway, except when my dad was around and he had a company car. My mother, an elementary school teacher, would buy a new car once every 8 or 10 years. In 1972 we were still a couple of years away from a new ride. We had decent clothes but we certainly we not among the ‘rich’ folks in town.
Growing up, our town was mostly white kids but there were a couple black kids and a few more ‘Mexican’ kids in school. We didn’t know back then there was a difference between Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico or anywhere else and we didn’t care. We also had some Indian kids too. Not native Indians but kids from India, including one that became a good friend of mine, Raji. I don’t think we gave much thought to racism, or privilege or ever conceived that somehow we were bad people because we were white. We treated everyone pretty much the same and honestly that was pretty damned good.
On the rare occasion the topic of race would come up, my mother would tell me how God made someone for everyone and that all people were basically good, until they weren’t…
Things are so much different today than they were in 1972 and I cannot say for the better. Today is Christmas Day, 43 years later…
(to be continued)