Torture. That’s what it was. Pure torture.
The rule in my family growing up was that I could open one Christmas present on Christmas Eve. The rest of the gifts were opened Christmas morning.
Just like having natural Christmas trees – which my father would augment and perfect with his electric drill, inserting branches where nature let us down – we had serious doubts about people who opened all their presents on Christmas Eve.
You wouldn’t want your kid to marry someone who would knowingly harbor an artificial tree. Or one of those strange people who open all their presents on Christmas Eve.
What would you do on Christmas morning if you opened all your presents the night before? Sleep in? To quote our Great Leader-Elect, “C’mon, man!”
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Prior to opening up my one present on Christmas Eve, it was mandatory that we get dressed up in uncomfortable clothes, and attend the Christmas Eve service at our Presbyterian Church.
That service – lush with poinsettias, classic hymns from the choir, and a message of peace and hope from our minister – was nevertheless pure torture for a kid who was hopped up as a rat stuck in a coffee can over getting his one night-before Christmas present.
It was an hour that lasted days, months. It dragged on like 100 miles of washboard road. Like a weeping, painful rash. Like a never-ending staff meeting.
I’d look at my dad’s watch when I thought a half hour had passed, only to find that it was only five minutes later. I was thirsty, and my “good clothes” were too hot.
There were several big chandeliers hanging above the sanctuary of our church. The bottom of the chandeliers were frosted glass, allowing light to shine down.
And every year, there were dead moths lying on that glass – some years more than others, because to clean them they had to put up scaffolds, climb way up there, and reach down to grab all the dead moths. A lot of work.
Out of desperation to make the endless minutes pass, I would count that year’s total number of dead months lying in the base of the chandelier hanging above us. I knew the years they skipped putting up the scaffolds to clean out the dead moths. They couldn’t fool me.
Eventually, after what seemed like a couple weeks, the church service would end.
My father was not a sadistic man, except on that one night of the year. After church, we would climb into the family Buick, and my father would announce that we needed to drive around town and “look at the Christmas lights.”
Most nights of the year, I would have enjoyed it, but with my one present waiting at home, driving around town oohing and ahhing over Christmas lights seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.
When I was growing up, Christmas presents for kids were a lot cooler than the crazy stuff kids like today. One year it was an HO-scale electric train, which my mother purchased by turning in books full of S&H Green Stamps.
There was a “Bulldog 66” toy tank from Mattel one year, that shot gray plastic bullets across the living room rug. Another year there was a “Fighting Lady” navy destroyer, again with a cannon that shot plastic bullets. More than one Christmas tree ornament fell victim to those bullets.
There were Tonka Toys. And one year, later on, a Schwinn “Varsity” 10-speed bike, in “flamboyant lime.” (My parents said I’d soon lose interest in it, but I kept it for the next 30 years.)
Sad to say, memorable Christmas gifts are fewer and further between when you become a geezer like me. After considerable thought, it occurred to me that the best present I’ve gotten in many years was a shovel and scoop combo for cleaning up after the dog in our back yard. I’ve had them for 25 years, spanning four Labradors, and I appreciate that gift every time I tidy up.
The lesson? Savor Christmas when you’re young, because your “Pooper Scooper” years await.
And if the church service drags on, count the dead moths.
Dave Simpson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org