Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Christmas Story

I’m guessing I was around 8 years old.  Christmas was still magical.  Although I was beginning to question the whole Santa Clause story, I was still willing to go along with it.  It was the time in life when it felt like the things you wanted for Christmas were life or death necessities.  
I wanted an electric train set.  I wanted it so badly that it hurt.  In the late 1950’s a trainset was one of the greatest toys you could have.  I had my eye on the American Flyer.  It had a red nose with a silver chasie.  It was a modern diesel train and I had to have it.  
It was a few days before Christmas.  I was in the kitchen with mom and dad.  Mom was getting ready to go shopping and Dad was going up to take a shower before his day.  Just then a delivery truck brought a huge cardboard box to the house.  My father put it high on the kitchen counter.  As he moved it, I thought I saw a picture of a railroad train on the top of the box.  Once it was on the counter it was lost to my line of vision.  Mom left and dad went up for his shower.  But before he left the room he looked me in the eye, very seriously, and told me not to go near the box, and then he went upstairs.  
My father probably had never heard of paradox, but that was what happened to me.  I had to look at that box.  His warning only wet my appetite to spy.  When finally I heard him step into the shower, I quietly dragged one of the kitchen chairs over to the counter.  Slowly, quietly and deliberately I climbed up onto the chair.  Still, this necessitated that I stand on my tip toes, to see the design on the top of the box.  Then, there it was!  A picture of a railroad train, with the words “American Flyer” on the very top of the box.  
“What do you think you are doing?”  My father’s voice boomed at me.  I turned to find him stark naked, dripping wet with a scowl on his face.  “I told you to stay away from that box.  I can’t believe I find you trying to peek at it.  That box goes back to the store tomorrow.”  Leaving a trail of water, my father returned to his shower.  
I was crushed.  I had ruined my surprise.  Only a few days more and it would have been mine.  How could I have sabotaged my great present.  I walked around dejected for most of the week.  I told some of my friends at school and they all agreed that I had screwed up big time.  
I guess you know that on Christmas morning, that beautiful train set was waiting for me.  Thinking that I had lost it and then finding it was all the more sweet.  I spent hours with that train set, changing the shapes of the track designs and coupling and uncoupling the cars that went with the diesel.   It was, undoubtedly, one of my favorite toys as a child, but it held no interest for my children.  After sitting in the attic in boxes for decades, I sold it last year for $125.  I will never know how much my parents paid for it.   Despite its lack of worth today, it will always be one of the most precious gifts I ever received. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Defending the Homeland

Although my mother protected me by forbidding me from participating in most of the work on the farm, I was allowed some duties.  One of those duties was the farm’s defense against critters.  Woodchucks loved to eat the bark off our cherry trees and burrow into the barns.  By the time I was 11 or 12 years old, I was taught how to shoot a rifle and sent out into the orchards to hunt woodchucks.  Life and death on a farm seemed routine.  Over time I became an excellent shot and skillful hunter.  I would tiptoe through the rows of trees, watching for movement.  Then I would usually be able to take out the critter with one shot. 
I enjoyed the challenge.  One missed shot and all the woodchucks would scurry into their holes and hide until dark.  Also, I can not begin to explain the excitement one feels hunting.  It is primal and self-reinforcing.  There is a thrill to it that makes you feel incredibly powerful.  
One day, while relishing in this power, and not seeing any woodchucks, I decided to shoot a bird.  I have no explanation for this, other than I was a kid with the power of life and death in my hands.  Regretably, the first bullet did not kill it.  With my second shot, the damn thing exploded.  I believe the bullets must have collided.  I was shocked and disgusted at what I had just done.  I starred at it for a time, then had the impulse to hide it.  I was ashamed.  
I suspect that was the last time I went hunting in the orchard.  After that I left it to our hired man, Oscar, to do the hunting.  I was left remembering the power of carrying that gun, and the potential horror that accompanied it.  Decades later, I still have that rifle.  The next time a town offers one of those money for guns program, I’m cashing it in.  Now when I think of it, I remember a quote attributed to Winnicott, “If children had guns, we’d all be dead.”   https://soundcloud.com/kellymegan17/newtown-angels