In the movie A Christmas Story, the main character Ralphie refers to his Red Ryder BB Gun as “The greatest Christmas gift I had ever received, or would ever receive.” Which got me thinking about the many childhood gifts I’ve received over the years, and which I consider The Greatest.
There were some toys left by Santa over the years that still resonate in my memory that deep down I wish I still owned. One was a robot that shot missiles out of its head and swung his arm to hurl an arsenal of balls from his hands. Another was a submarine about two feet long that was battery operate and rolled across the floor. The best part, however, was that the top was transparent blue, and lifted off allowing you to place crewmen at their stations. There were many toys I received that later become classic collectibles, but unfortunately, all were donated (or trashed) as I got too old to play with them. (Captain Action, Johnny West and his horse, GI Joe, and an epic collection of Major Matt Mason toys.) One tremendous present was my Super 8 movie camera and projector, which would be the tools of my teenage years that lead me to pursue television as a career.
Now as I review the presents of Christmas past, some of the greatest have to be books. As I sit at my desk, the spines of those holiday gems seem to glow. One of my earliest and much-prized possessions is The boys’ Sherlock Holmes. In fact not many months back I pulled it off the shelf and re-read (for the fiftieth time) Holmes and Watson adventures at Baskerville Hall.
These next two books don’t have traditional book spines, but they hold a cherished place among my collection. The Sternako History of Comics 1 & 2 have been read and re-read so many times that the pages barely hold together. Obviously, I was so thrilled to have Volume #1 autographed by the author himself at the 2018 Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC. I choose book one for the signature, because of the chapter entitled The Bloody Pulps which introduced me to the world of pulp fiction literature. It also brought to life a character my parents had just mentioned in whispers: The Shadow.
As I kid growing up, my father had a shortwave radio receiver. I even helped him run the giant aerial across our yard. It ran from the second story of the house out to a variety of trees, hanging over the yard like a vast spider web. He would sit on our back porch listening to the news from around the world, and every so often, he’d tune in an old-time radio program being broadcast. I fell in love with Theatre of the Mind. I still remember the first program I heard, The Adventures of The Thin Man, as Nick and Nora solved a murder aboard a cross-country express. (The Shadow was an OTR legend, but it would be many more years before I heard his tales.) My parents knew my love for the entertainment of yesteryear and my first Christmas after graduating from high school they gave me a copy of Tune in Yesterday, The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio.
My father worked across the street from the Natural History and Science Museum, and on Saturday mornings it featured a classic film series. The event started at 8:30 a.m., which was rough on a young boy who hated (still do) rising early. I remember working extra hard to push myself to not miss a single Saturday installment. Why? Well, I did not want to miss the latest episode of the weekly cliffhanger. The Phantom Creeps and Buck Rogers introduced me to action and adventure on the silver screen that television of the day could not match. Which is why To Be Continued…a complete guide to motion picture serials is a cherished Christmas gift and book.
Now as I got older, I’d purchase many more books related to the themes and topics I mentioned above. My wife would also surprise me with several tomes that snuggled up nicely with their genre kin. However, one collection of books she single-handedly assembled for me, that I turn to any time I’m down in the dumps, need cheering up, or just want to smile and laugh out loud is my Calvin and Hobbs Collection. Fifteen books filled with the most insightful and funniest comic strip adventures, I think have ever been published. I love my wife!
What is the greatest Christmas gift you’ve ever received? Share with us, or even better, take the time this holiday season to thank the person who gave it to you one more time.