Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Crapbook: 1989 edition

For me, Christmas 1989 has a distinct smell. Burnt, with accents of Play-Doh.

A couple of months prior, a momentous event shifted how I spent my nights: Colin and I got twin beds (and I would sleep alone forevermore). Before that, we had shared a mattress and box spring. Theoretically, we each had a half of that mattress (with mine on the right), but Colin seemed to think mine was his. He always put his right arm under my pillow and slept diagonally. On more than one occasion, this caused me to roll off the bed in my sleep. Fortunately, we didn’t have a bed frame, so I only had about a foot to fall. Barely enough to rouse me. But that arm...arrggh...

So we were both pretty jazzed to come home one day to see new twin beds set up in our bedroom. Well, new isn’t quite the word; in fact, they were quite old. They had been in my grandparent’s “back back” room, but they decided they didn’t need four beds back there anymore. Hence, bliss. Aside from the fact that my bed’s wheels had unusually protrusive locks, which my dad constantly stubbed with his toes, the beds led to a new era of independence and excitement. We decorated our halves of the walls with our favorite posters, signs and pennants. We even had a cable TV hookup and would later inherit the VCR in my mom’s room that I was constantly head-cleaning. We tended to leave the room a mess, but it was OUR mess! It was as close to dorm-room living as I ever got.

Once again, we bought a real Christmas tree. I believe this was the year we bought it at Winn Dixie. While Mom and Dad set it up, I decided to check out our copy of the Children’s Bible. This was the book that, many years before, had dispelled me of the notion that the Good Book was called the “Vivle.” I always preferred it to the real one, because of its colorful, dramatic illustrations and its modern narrative structure. As a kid hopped up on Hardy Boys and Nintendo, how could I not?

Yeah, the Hardy Boys. That’s important. That spring, I had gotten really, really, really into the Hardy Boys. It happened at school, when I was required to check out a book at the library, but I couldn’t decide on one I wanted. So I followed the lead of the other guys and checked out a volume, #37, “The Ghost at Skeleton Rock.” I was hooked. Not only did I read most of the library’s selection, I got into a ritual of buying a new book every week at B. Dalton, and hit the motherlode that summer when a friend of my grandmother’s was happy to donate all of her son’s old books to my collection. I even started writing my own series of police-mystery novels, which I envisioned as a TV series starring John Stamos. You know you would have watched it.

Oh, and my mom was pregnant with my future sister, who was due in February. And when I eventually have access to the many photos and the home video of the holiday, she will want that fact abundantly clear.

In the weeks before Christmas, a deep freeze hit Lafayette. It led to episodic snow flurries, which you’d sometime see collect in the middle of the street and got everyone hot with excitement. Believe it or not, though, there was a downside to this cold snap: our largely uninsulated house became butt-numbingly frigid and our pipes froze (including those of my favorite miniature bar sink, which we never used again). My parents declared our house too cold to stay in (good call, considering we could see our breath in the house), so Colin and I spent a few days at my grandparents’ insulated oasis. They stopped setting out their miniature tree after 1987, but it still looked and felt very much like a winter wonderland.

At the YMBC Christmas party, I got a toy gun that fired hollow plastic balls at stand-up targets. It was one of those cheap toys that nevertheless provided hours of fun while holed up away from home.

Incensed by the great tear-up row of 1988, my parents absolutely banned us from handling any wrapped presents. If they found one hole, Mom said, the presents would be given to someone else. That threatened act of charity ensured we never tore until told to ever again.

On Christmas Eve, Colin and I received new sheets for our twin beds. His had a California Raisins motif. Mine had Nintendo patterns, alternating between Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda. AWESOME! I never needed motivation to make my bed after that. Each side of the pillowcase had a cartoon mural of one of the games. I went to bed that night — early, of course — and kept flipping the pillow every few minutes, because I couldn’t decide whether Mario or Link was the best bedfellow.

(And how's this for a cheap laugh at my expense: I used these sheets until my teens, until I got new ones for Christmas somewhere between 13 and 15.)

I also got an Opus 1990 calendar, which reprinted classic strips of "Bloom County" by Berke Breathed. One of my favorite characters (and strips) of all time.

As Colin and I lay restlessly in our beds in the dark bedroom, we could hear my parents watching TV in the next room. I could also hear a vague rustle of things being taken out of paper bags. Santa Claus, I thought, or maybe Mom. Yeah, more likely Mom. No, can’t be. Gotta be Santa, right?

The rustling stopped. Mom walked through our bedroom to go the bathroom. She was humming the theme to “Doogie Howser, M.D.” I kid you not. On her way back through, she told us not to go in the den and if we needed water or anything, call for her. Worked for us! And scene.

The next morning, technically speaking, Colin and I were allowed to make our way to the back. I say technically, because I believe it was about 4:30 a.m. Unlike most years, we didn’t have any immediately identifiable favorites, because what we wanted were small items. For Colin, it was a remote-control car. For me, Super Mario 2. We both got what we wanted.

Among numerous items spread out on the couch for me were Super Mario 2, a Hardy Boys paperback book, Spirograph (I had moved up from Spirotot!) a Play-Doh Fun Factory. Colin’s presents, placed under the tree like the Good Lord intended, included the RC car, a Bobby Hebert jersey T-shirt and a complete microscope set. Yes, Christmas 1989 is the day I saw a petri dish for the first time. After Mom and Dad went back to bed, I played Super Mario 2 while Colin had his car do donuts on the kitchen floor. In between games, I would break out the Play-Doh and manufacture fun. Later, I would jump into the kitchen and dare Colin to mow me down with his car.

This Christmas was particularly notable for its stocking stuffers. Each stocking came with a note, handwritten from Santa. Mine said, “From that jolly old elf Santa Claus.” Colin’s said, “From ‘Saint’ Nicholas.” That year, Santa wrote a lot like my dad. 1989 began a tradition that continues to this day in our family: Life Savers storybooks. I’m not a big fan of cherry as a flavor additive (though I love cherries), but I make an exception for cherry-flavored Life Savers. To me, they are Christmas. That year, they came with fancy ornaments. Ah, the go-go ’80s.

Another small toy I’m sure my parents regretted giving us were these balls that you could rub together and generate a spark. We weren’t necessarily so good at sparking, but either way, the balls gave off a burnt odor similar to that of a cap gun. Ah, the aroma of fun!

By the time the actual day part of the day rolled around, Colin and I felt like we’d already had a whole day of fun. But hopped up on Life Savers as we were, we still had plenty of fuel in the tank for Aunt Nona’s party. As was the custom, we each brought our favorite toy. This was the year that officially got stupid, as I brought Super Mario 2. To read the instructions, I guess. I remember the box fading in the sun, and thinking, that was fast. Colin brought his remote-controlled car, which made a lot more sense. The car operated on the same frequency as Nona’s phone, causing an irritating buzz every time he manned the remote. I’m sure they loved that.

(Colin always blamed me for breaking the car. During a holiday get-together in 1990 — I think on Father's Day, or maybe even New Year's Day — we were taking turns commanding the car while the other brother and assorted cousins tried to pick it up, and I was doing a particularly deft job of avoiding their hands. So when the steering later began to feel floaty, Colin said it was my fault. But I think he was just being a sore loser. I'm not even sure the car ever actually broke.)

The weather had warmed up considerably by Christmas Day, so the party spilled outside — though the way that phone was buzzing, that probably would have happened regardless. Colin, Dad and I played football in the front yard, where I learned for the first time how to call plays like a quarterback. “On two, ready, BREAK!”

Over the next four nights, relatives from both sides of the family came together. My dad’s brother, Uncle Bill, and his son Conor visited, with Bill filming video. That will make its way here, because it’s hilarious, especially if you like to see me trying to be smooth but then tripping and falling, and also losing angrily in Super Mario 2. Colin also gets in his licks, flicking my ear like he so often did at the time. He makes goofy faces and gets burned by dad’s cigarette ash while showing off his Bobby Hebert shirt. Later, my New Orleans cousins Amanda and Shawn stopped by as well. As for the family card game of Cadillac, well, that could be a study in Cajun good times.

Conor brought a Game Boy, which we all tried to make him forget at our house.

Some of the relatives also bought presents. Mine included a "rock" from which you could excavate real fossils, and a fingerprinting kit that I used two months later as part of my Hardy Boys social studies fair project. That was back when you could bring vials of white dust to school without submitting to a body-cavity search and a review of your credit report.

Colin got a woodburning set from my parents...AND my uncle. What are the odds? After all, it's not as if Colin had expressed an interest in burning stuff. It did smell great, though. A sweeter burn than the spark balls.

All in all, a wonderful Christmas for the family. And the last one before our gift pool was diluted for good. Thanks a lot, Keely.

Next time in the Crapbook: My sister Keely dilutes the gift pool in 1990!

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Aman Sony said...
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