I stirred in my sleep as I heard someone talking outside. Our beds were on a sleeping porch and my brother, sister and I were all snug under the blankets. I turned to the window and saw my Dad talking with a neighbor. There was some sort of spotlight lighting up a portion of the backyard.
I was too young to wear a watch, but I knew that it was late at night. They seemed to be working on something, but I was too sleepy to really pay much attention. The next morning, all the kids were ecstatic to find a brand-new swing set in the back yard. Any connection to my memory of the night before was pushed aside as we slid on the slide and swung as high as our young legs could pump.
I was about to start the first grade and that Christmas Eve and the discovery of the swing set on Christmas morning are some of my earliest memories of the holiday. I remember Tonka trucks, stuffed animals, animal crackers and firecrackers. It was a magical time.
Just over twenty years later, I found myself in the backyard two hours past midnight. My neighbor, Bob Dutton, had just brought over a spotlight to help me as I frantically worked to finish putting together a swing set, much like the one Santa had brought me so many years earlier.
As I finished, I held up the plastic bag filled with a hundred extra bolts, nuts, and screws. Could I have possibly put it together correctly with so many extra parts? I must have done okay because our children happily played on that swing set for years.
This year, our family finds itself with a mini-population boom. We welcomed the arrival of a great-niece last week and a great-nephew came just this past Tuesday. Others are on the way. It will be a busy time over the next few years as these second cousins grow up together. They will all be the first child of their parents, which is nice. Their parents can all learn together.
I am not sure when I last saw a Tonka Truck, or a sandbox. Do little girls still play with dolls? Does their mother make the doll’s clothes? What is a good toy to buy for kids who learn to operate an iPad by the age of three? I walked through the aisles at Walmart this week just browsing at toys. A lot has changed, but I was pleased to see some old favorites.
Board games, like Sorry, Life and Monopoly are still around. I was pleased to see Wiffle balls and bats, a great favorite for my brother and me. We played hundreds of games with friends with Wiffle balls in our front yard.
I remember the smell of my first baseball glove that I opened on Christmas morning. The Hershey Kisses, and other candies. Always some clothes which were not as exciting. An occasional pocketknife or wristwatch began to appear as we got older.
A BB gun was a big hit, as was my first transistor radio, and a record player that my mom had refurbished and painted orange and blue. There always seemed to be a new Slinky under the tree, that would usually last two or three days before getting stretched. Jacks, pickup sticks, and a deck of stiff, slick playing cards. There were always oranges and apples in the stocking.
I look forward to hearing my nieces and nephews one day tell their own stories of putting together new swing sets for their children. Will directions have improved, or will they simply pull up the installation video on You Tube?
Christmas is a wonderful time for families. Sharing good food with family and friends. Remembering old memories while making new ones. As I watch yet another generation begin their journey, I am reminded more than ever that in many ways, Christmas is indeed for children.
Merry Christmas to one and all.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org