Christmas toys helped shape my mind into what it is today.

Ah, Christmas time. Time for family and friends, for keeping in touch and getting back in touch with the people who are important to us, time for holiday baking and visiting and partying…

…and gifts, too, I suppose. If you know me, you’ll know that I’ve had the same two items on my standing Christmas/birthday/general wish list for approximately many years: I would like 1.) a pony, and 2.) a Jeep Wrangler. Just this past year I added a third item, an Ofume bath tub. Thank the Japanese for this wonder of indulgence. As a larger-than-life woman, my bathwater can never be too deep or too hot, and the Ofume tub allows you to run water that covers you up to your neck. O, joyful day!

When I was a child, my list was less sophisticated, although “pony” always checked in at number one. One year I asked “Santa” (knowing full well it was my mother who did the Christmas gifting and not some fictional fellow in red velvet and white ermine) for a “Rub-A-Dub Dolly”, a fascinating gem of a baby doll whose claim to fame was being completely waterproof. You could give her a bath! Wash and then comb her hair! Wheee! My mother was a very frugal woman, however, and instead of the actual brand-name baby doll, “Santa” brought me the S.S. Kresge version, called “Bathtime Baby.” Same basic concept, but just a tad shy in the quality control department. Bathtime Baby’s hair mildewed, and she developed a persistent squish after just a few baths. She disappeared shortly afterward…

Many items I asked for were just impossibly indulgent, “pony” being among them, so I avoided putting most of them on my list. I did do a heckuva lotta “circling” in the Sears and Montgomery Wards toy catalogs, to drop hints in what I thought was a very subtle manner. If you can call actually cutting through the coated newsprint of the catalog page with a ballpoint pen ‘subtle.’ I wanted an Easy Bake Oven in the worst way, and many other things which escape my memory now. But some of the most memorable gifts are ones that I never asked for.

Like the Planet of the Apes Treehouse Command Center. This was a fascinating gift that I puzzled over for years, wondering “What does it MEAN? Why did Mom get me this? Is this like the booklet on molecular structure that Dad got me when he saw what I could do with my Spirograph? Do they wish for me to become a soldier, or perhaps a mercenary?” Please note that my father was very conservative with regard to exposing us kids to corruption in the form of entertainment, so we never got to see movies that were anything other than Rated G. IF we ever went to a movie. So I hadn’t even SEEN “Planet of the Apes,” much less become a fan of the story.

Thus it was a great surprise to find a large, flat-ish, square box (about 2’x2’x4″) under the tree one year. I think I was about 10 or 11 years old. Couldn’t even begin to GUESS what was in this box. I opened up and assembled this tiny treehouse-in-a-box, sized for 10″ tall Planet of the Apes action figures (I THINK it was for 10″ tall dolls–I didn’t actually HAVE the action figures to go with). It was exactly as advertised on the box–a ‘treehouse command center’ for your militant factions who need teeny little injection-molded firearms and an open, elevated, and covered platform constructed of rough-hewn-ish plastic logs, complete with a little rope ladder for said action figures.

Again. Hadn’t seen the movie, wasn’t a fan, did NOT know WHY I had received this gift. I was, however, raised to be a polite child, and I thanked my mother (er, SANTA, sorry) for this lovely gift. Since I didn’t have the Planet of the Apes action figures, my Lone Ranger doll and my Brenda Breyer doll hung out in the treehouse command center quite a bit. The Lone Ranger was quite tall, though, and he had to lay down whenever he came in from the cold. I could jam one of the AK-47s onto his index finger via the trigger guard, however, so he had fun packing while he rounded up the pretend cattle. Brenda fit in the treehouse a little better than did the Ranger, but she was bummed out that there was no one else to play “war” with her. It’s hard to take a guy seriously when his weapon is so far off in scale. The Treehouse Command Center retained a corner of my toybox for quite a while, until some of the connectors snapped and the floor kept dropping out of it. It just wasn’t safe to tether Silver to anymore.

Wasn’t until many years later when my siblings and I were talking about memorable Christmas gifts that my brother finally filled me in on the backstory of the Treehouse. That year, what I REALLY wanted was a cardboard playhouse, which didn’t seem too extravagant, even by my frugal parents’ standards. I was confused why I hadn’t received it, but neither did I connect that item on my wish list with the Treehouse Command Center. My brother had been recruited to help my mother with the Christmas shopping, and when she asked him “Is this the playhouse that Kara wants?” he said ‘yes’ without really looking at the item in question. Seems he was distracted by a pretty young thing who was helping her mother shop for younger sibs (and most likely messing up their delicate minds as well).

For YEARS I puzzled over the meaning of that gift, when it was nothing more than a simple misunderstanding. As such, I probably spent more time playing with it, because I had to use my imagination more with it than I would have with a cardboard playhouse. Had I a cardboard playhouse, I would probably have set it up in my bedroom, installed deadbolts on the doors inside, and plunked a reading lamp and a big pillow on the floor.

Some gifts, like my Wham-O “Magic Window”, I have treasured even to this current day.

img_3756There it is, hovering above my computer desk, suspended with 3M Command Adhesive hooks in a place of honor. I LOOOOVE this thing. I used to spin it for hours, letting the shifting blue and grey and white sands mesmerise me. I think I may have been born to be a stoner, because just like my Magic Window, there are some computer screensavers that I like to stare at because they can kind of take me to another state of consciousness if I devote enough time to watching them. Think what I could do with the assistance of mind-altering substances.

Another wonderful gift that changed my life was an AM/FM portable transistor radio. My mother loved to listen to her radio, and I’m not sure whether this compact little guy was her idea or not, but it certainly was a wonderful gift. It transported me to far away places without leaving the comfort of my own bedroom. I remember plugging in its little white plastic ear piece to listen covertly to songs winging their way to me through the airwaves from exotic locations like WLS in Chicago, and CKLW in Detroit. In the deep still of the night, I listened to Top 40s music and commercials for far-off businesses and fantasized what life would be like out in the world, as an adult, able to do whatever I pleased.

I still have that radio. Just looking at it and turning the tuning dial takes me back to huddling under the covers in my chilly room upstairs in the dark, with the volume turned down so low that I had a hard time hearing it myself, to keep my late-night listenership a secret from my father. Honestly, I think he had bionic ears, because he could hear my radio all the way downstairs, even when I used the earpiece. That was my first gift of electronic equipment, and I still feel the same thrill when I open up a new computer or other digital accessory, carefully unfolding cords and retaining owner’s manuals.

Although I wasn’t much for dolls, I did love my Bathtime Baby, and my Sunshine Family dolls. They were friendly and realistically proportioned, and I loved the large, glossy brown eyes of Steve, the father, and the round blue eyes and silky blonde hair of Steffie, the mother, and the pure perfection of the unjointed Baby Sweets, with its curly cap of curls. I still have The Sunshine Family, too.

What I wish I had kept were my collection of Charlie’s Angels trading cards and stickers, and my Weebles. I know that if I still had my Charlie’s Angels cards, that my life would have been much more successful and fulfilling. And the Weebles? I just miss them.

12.27.08–My wonderful Pumpkin (aka Rick, aka my husband) is very envious of my Treehouse Command Center, and feels that I am a tremendous ingrate for not having fully appreciated it. I wish I had saved it for him, but alas, the Lone Ranger trashed it with his gigantic stature.

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