I must have been about 10 years old. That was the Christmas of the year that brother, Mickey, and me were living with Aunt Nina and Uncle Ed in Prescott. Coincidentally, cousins Gary, Sherry and Patty were also staying with them. And, to top that off, cousins Nancy and Frank were their own kids. Now if you do the math on that, you’ll conclude there were seven kids under their roof at that time.
You might think they must have had a big plush house to accommodate such a clan of kids but actually not. In fact, the house was an old converted barn with a red rolled roof and it set next to grandmothers’ house, also with a red rolled roof with a tin roof garage between them. The property belonged to my Grandmother and set directly across Iron Springs Road from the Pioneer Cemetery which, incidentally, is the only thing from those days that is still there today.
We were poor. I realize that as a retrospective anecdote though, since at the time I didn’t really think of us as being poor. But we were and that Christmas yielded but one gift for each kid. Oddly, each kid knew what all the other kids were going to get but, of course, not what they themselves were going to get. This is mostly because we kids all wrapped each others gifts.
You could be imagining a tree with seven boxes underneath all neatly wrapped with customary Santa and reindeer designed red and green wrapping paper sporting fancy blue bows and white tassels. Not! Our family saw no sense wasting money on that sort of thing. Wrapping for us was more a proposition of just ‘covering up’ the gift so the person getting it didn’t know what it was till they opened it.
Now kids will tend toward doing things in more of a fun, if not downright mischievous, way and ‘wrapping’ these gifts was no exception. Let me exemplify this notion by explaining how we ‘wrapped’ cousin Gary’s gift. That year it was a basketball which I only remember because of how we wrapped it. A basketball is less than one cubic foot in volume. We put it in a box that was probably about 3 foot by 3 foot by 2 foot which is on the order of 18 cubic feet. Naturally you need to take up all that extra space in the box which was done mostly by stuffing paper, card board and such in the extra space. ( They didn’t have styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap back in those days although, as you might have guessed, we wouldn’t have used them anyway for lack of funds.) But somebody, I don’t remember who, got the devilish idea of going out to the pasture and collecting up dried remnants that had been extruded from the south end of north bound animals, basically cow pies and road apples. Not being completely without mercy we only used specimens that were totally dried out and scattered them liberally though the box with the basketball and the other more benign packaging materials.
As I remember Gary wasn’t particularly thrilled with the whole effort when he opened it but the rest of us sure thought it was funny. Worse yet, although he was pretty tall he didn’t particularly like basketball or any other sport for that matter as he was a total book worm. ( He read incessantly and he would even read encyclopedias just for fun.) Thus the gift itself was disappointing to him as well I’m sure. ( However, he grew up to be the most successful of that ‘magnificent seven of cousins’ as he graduated from the ASU school of business and worked for thriving companies in high level management and even VP capacities I'm told. There is another kid adventure that includes him in my Arizona Flash Flood Story. )
But this article is about the ‘Perfect Christmas Gift’ which happened to be my gift that year. It was a cylindrical tube shape about three feet long and 3 or 4 inches in diameter wrapped in tar paper. ( That would be the black felt that comes in a three foot roll and is used as an underlayment on roofs.) As I remember “To: Kenny” was written in white caulk on it lengthwise. It was placed leaning against the wall in the corner behind the tree and other presents like a broom or mop might be.
Of course, I spent the days leading up to Christmas as all kids would, speculating about what might be in that tar paper cylinder. Maybe it was a telescope! That would be the best but I knew we couldn’t afford that. How about a kaleidoscope which would be pretty cool but the package was too big. Oh wait, package size can be totally misleading when it comes to contents, don’t we know it. ;-) At the age of 10 anticipation is a pretty big deal.
As it turns out it was a Daisy lever action Bee Bee gun. That was about the best thing you could give a 10 year old country boy back in the 50’s. Why? You have no idea how many hours of my childhood were spent target practicing, shooting tin cans, scaring birds and other critters, hunting imaginary grizzlies, play Audie Murphy, and the like.
You see the perfect gift is not really about the gift at all. It’s about the time, experiences and memories that collect around it.
If you have any campers on your list, here are my suggestions - camping gifts.
I'm sure they still have a 10 year old kid living somewhere inside them and don't we know kids just love camping!