Thursday, December 26, 2013

When Christmas Wishes Come True

I woke early on Christmas morning, perhaps an hour or so before sunrise.

I don't know why I have fallen into this pattern of rising early, but it has been that way of late. It is the only reason why I would be up before dawn on Christmas. I am no longer a child, eager to unwrap my Christmas gifts. I am an adult, living alone. There were no gifts under the tree for me to unwrap. Fact is, there was no tree.

But I was up, and it was Christmas, and that was cause for a little reflection. Good as any, I suppose.

I grew up in Arkansas, but I've spent most of the Christmases of my life here in Dallas. There have been a few exceptions but not many. My parents were born and raised here, and my grandparents lived here when I was a child. My father was a college professor, which meant he was off from his job at roughly the same time my brother and I were off from school so it made sense for the whole family to pack up and head for Dallas and an extended holiday with the grands (grandmothers, mostly — both of my grandfathers were deceased before I turned 10).

A few of the exceptions I mentioned were when I was about 10 or 11 years old. We drove to Dallas on those occasions, too, but we had our family Christmas a couple of days ahead of the actual day, then drove to South Padre Island at the southern tip of Texas where we spent three or four days soaking up the south Texas sun and playing on the beach.

One or two adults traveling in an average vehicle probably could make that trip in eight or nine hours, stopping only for gas, the occasional bathroom break and perhaps a takeout burger. But we were a family of four with two dogs and one of those popup camper/trailer rigs hitched to the car. We frequently stopped along the way, my parents concluded that stopping for sit–down meals rather than takeout was best (it wasn't as potentially messy even though it took longer), and we couldn't really build up a high rate of speed when we were on the road so it usually took us 11 or 12 hours to reach our destination.

For a variety of reasons, we only made this trip about three times. As I recall, the last time we went down there, we arrived in brilliant sunshine and were in high spirits after putting up the camper and preparing to bed down for the night. During the night, though, a heavy rainstorm moved into the area and pounded the area for a couple of days. Finally, my parents decided enough was enough, and we packed up the trailer in the rain and made a beeline for my maternal grandmother's home. As we were making that long drive, we heard the radio report that the storm was the heaviest to strike the area in decades, perhaps a century.

We also heard there were reports of recreational boats lost at sea. That was the last time my family made a trip to South Padre Island.

But I recall that, just before we made our first or second trip to south Texas, I received probably the best Christmas present of my young life — an electric football set. (Actually, it may be better than any Christmas gift I have received since.)

I already had an electric football set. I had wanted one ever since a neighbor and playmate got one a few years earlier, and my parents had given me one, but his was better. It was like the picture shown above, with the players wearing genuine pro football uniforms and helmets, and there was a scoreboard with what appeared to be crowds of fans in the stands.

By comparison, my set was rather bare bones.

My set had no such detail. The players for one team were all red, from their heads to their feet, and the players for the other team were blue, from their heads to their feet. My friend's set looked like it had inch–tall football players, football cards come to life (I was an avid football card collector in those days); mine looked like two teams of plastic figures, no different from the mass–produced plastic green soldiers I played with when I was younger.

There was no scoreboard, either. Well, actually, I think there was something that was supposed to be like a scoreboard, but it was all so generic. My friend's set came with two teams — it was possible to order additional teams, in their home and/or road uniforms —and it had punch–out team names so it was possible to change the name of the team(s) on the scoreboard, too.

When the teams were mailed, the company included tiny sets of numbers that the recipient could apply to the players if desired.

A couple of my playmates had a brother who was about six years older than us, and he had a whole collection of those NFL teams, in their home and away uniforms, on display in his bedroom. He had put numbers on all the players — and not randomly, either. The numbers corresponded with the players who played for the teams.

I remember looking at them from time to time with a sense of awe and wonder.

Looking back on it, there was nothing wrong with the first electric football set I got. It's just that the other was so much better in my eyes. I dutifully played with the first set for a couple of years, but I never got over wanting the one with the authentic–looking players and the scoreboard.

And, when I was about 10 or 11, I finally got it for Christmas.

The teams weren't the hot teams of the day — although they did considerably better in later years — but they looked authentic.

They weren't just red and blue figures.

I think I will always remember that adrenaline rush I felt on Christmas morning (we actually stayed at my grandmother's house for Christmas before embarking on our journey to south Texas that year) when I unwrapped the electric football set. But alas! I couldn't enjoy playing with it yet. The family had to pack up the car for an early departure for South Padre Island that next morning, and most of the Christmas gifts (including my electric football set) had to stay behind.

So, for the next three days, I could only fantasize about playing with my electric football set. For a 10– or 11–year–old boy, it was sheer agony. I thought about that football set while I played on the beach during the day, then I dreamed about it at night.

I don't know if the reality ever lived up to the fantasy, but I know I played with that set for a few years before I tired of it.

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