I was a kid back when Christmas put a huge exclamation point at the end of each year.

I was a kid back when Christmas put a huge exclamation point at the end of each year. Everything else in the prior 11 months was eclipsed by Christmas mornings.

Of course we kids knew the real "reason for the season," but the spiritual stuff was covered by Santaís shadow. These were the days when "Red Ryder" BB guns worked their magic in boysí minds and sugar plums did ó in fact ó dance.

The farther we adults move through our allotted days, the dimmer Christmas excitements become. Thereís no remedy for such fading; itís an unfortunate byproduct of lifeís experiences.

However, Iím blessed with a good memory and have a huge collection of tiny, mundane tidbits of Christmases past. Iíd be lying if I said gifts didnít matter, but my memory of them has little to do with money and everything to do with feelings.

Each year I got an "extra special" present. By todayís standards, most of them wouldnít register a tiny blip on modern kidsí radar screens.

I doubt a single Hopalong Cassidy pocketknife was under anybodyís tree in 2012. That present fell out of the sleigh 65 years ago but still makes me smile.

One year Dad and Mom bought me a used electric guitar. I never learned to play it but sure worked at it. As time passed, I know they regretted that gift more and more. I truly believe Dad busted my amplifier.

When I was 7, Santa gave me a Remington .22 single-shot rifle. Two years later, I hit the jackpot. "Santa," whom I had finally identified as my parents, gave me my first deer rifle, a Model 94 Winchester 30/30. I was "The Rifleman" before Chuck Connors.

Looking back at those times through todayís prism, itís obvious that I spent my pre-teen life on another planet.

I knew what I was doing. Dad taught me to always attach my brain to my trigger finger. Anytime I fell short, his standard admonishment was: "Think! Think! Think!"

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook abomination, society needs changes. I have no idea what they should be, but itís quite obvious thereís vital work to do.

I believe gun violence ultimately is less about hardware and more about software. What on earth is being downloaded into peopleís minds nowadays? Iíll leave solutions to folks a lot smarter than I.

Our grandchild Bug is here from Tokyo, and itís an absolute joy to see the holidays through an amazing 4-year-old.

Throughout the country, I bet that this season of 2012 will have the most hugs exchanged in history. Merry Christmas.

Otis Gardnerís can be reached at ogardner@embarqmail.com.