Christmas gifts and Christmas memories

One day in high school, perhaps in 1974 or 1975, I stood in front of my bookshelves looking longingly at all those books filled with adventures — books about the Civil War, railroads and mythology and novels by Mark Twain — and thought, “Some day I’ll be out of school and have time to read these books.” Now, some 40-odd years later, I’m finally reading one of those books — “Yonder Comes The Train” by Lance Phillips.
Published in 1965, YCTT is a large quarto-size book (commonly known as a coffee table book, about 10 inches by 12 inches or so), profusely illustrated with black-and-white photos and drawings that complement Phillips’ detailed, knowledgeable text about the history of U.S. railroads. Phillips was the son of a railroad engineer and rode in the cabs of steam locomotives as a young child, a dream many of us hold.
YCTT was a Christmas gift in 1973, and it is a continuation of a love of railroad history that began in sixth grade, when I received my first HO train set, the Tyco Fast Freight, for Christmas. It set me to pondering other Christmas gifts I still own and know for sure were Christmas gifts.
My Whitacre grandfather, a widower in 1969 about a week shy of a year, gave me a chrome-and-gray PaperMate pen and mechanical pencil set. I carried that pen and pencil through junior high school at an age when many classmates would lose a pen the day after they borrowed it, although in my naivety I took the word “borrow” literally. I did not, however, loan the PaperMate pen and pencil. I still have them, and they still work, but they stay at home to be sure they don’t accidentally disappear.
For Christmas 1975, my freshman year at Miami U., I received “America’s Greatest Hits” on vinyl record, possibly from my older brother. I liked America because they played the acoustic country-folk-rock style popular in the 1970s on acoustic instruments. Since earliest memory I have liked acoustic instruments — guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin — and folk music, old-time country and bluegrass. I still have that record, and I have the album on CD too.
I wrote about Peanuts and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Dec. 4 and mentioned the books my Whitacre grandparents gave me for Christmas. I still have those books, and I remember where I received them — in my grandparents’ living room in an apartment above a garden store, but I can only guess at the year.
My oldest Christmas present is my Flexible Flyer sled,which I received in 1964. I was in second grade, and it was our first Christmas in our new house in North Canton. That Christmas was special simply because we celebrated it in our beautiful new house, and our tree was set up in the family room, in a shallow alcove formed by the pink brick fireplace, which protruded slightly from the pine-paneled wall, and the corner formed by another wall. Two sleds, one for me and one for my older brother, stood in that corner next to the chimney amid a breathtaking bounty of gifts. We have slide photos of that tree surrounded by presents, so I don’t know if I remember the scene or just the photo, but I do remember the excitement.
I spent many hours on that sled, the bulk of the time cruising down a hill in a nearby neighborhood back when snow cover seemed to stick around all winter. The sled had a flexible steering bar at the front, thus the name, and I could sit upright and steer with my feet or lie prone and steer with my hands. Perhaps I’ll retrieve it from the garage rafters and take it out this winter — if we ever get any snow cover.
Possessions often impart more than their intrinsic value. That sled, the Tyco train set, the America album and now the book on railroad history have provided and continue to offer many hours of enjoyment, but they transport me, the sled to cold, snowy days on a hill in North Canton; the train set to our basement, where I loved to kneel on the floor and watch trains roll by at track level; the America record to a cozy Christmas break home from college; and the Peanuts books and PaperMate pen and pencil to the loving home of my grandparents. Such are the greater treasures of possessions that eclipse their monetary value.

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