As the Good Book says in 1 Corinthians 13:14, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways.”
As a child, Christmas was mostly about me — at least in my own mind.
Not so as an adult. Having learned to be less self-absorbed, I don’t think I’m alone in finding far more pleasure in giving than in receiving. The best gifts I receive now — Christmas or otherwise — are those feelings of satisfaction I get from giving. And I have to be careful here to not articulate that the feelings of satisfaction are about me, because they’re not about me. Life, I’ve learned, is not about me.
No, the feelings of satisfaction I receive are directed to others. They’re about other’s happiness, about THEIR contentment.
My satisfaction now is found in the sense of possibility and the opportunities to make the world a little better place, if even for a few moments, through giving of my time or abilities or from other resources of which I have been blessed.
Yet, admittedly, some of my best memories still center on the joy and wonder of Christmas morning as a kid.
Our family tradition when we were growing up in Willowick, Ohio, was that we four kids could quietly tip-toe down the stairs from the bedroom we shared to rifle through our stockings hung on the wrought iron stair rail with care.
But we had to whisper. And we had to wait for Mom and Dad to emerge from their bedroom before we could do more than stare, mesmerized with rapt wonder, at Santa’s generosity under the aluminum Christmas tree with its red, glass bulb ornaments and twirling color wheel.
Today, being a giver is more enjoyable than being a getter. But of the great Christmas memories I have, none beats that Christmas morning on Sunday, Dec. 25, 1960, 53 years ago tomorrow, when I was a getter.
I was nearly 8 years old. It snowed that Christmas Eve night, I remember, one of those heavy, blustery, northern Ohio snowfalls that used to pile up in drifts against the front door, offering opportunities of tunnels and snow forts and a needed respite for Mom and Dad later on during the day.
But even the early morning view of the snow through the living room picture window couldn’t long draw my eyes that Christmas morning away from the big, wrapped box marked “To Barry from Santa.”
We kids had decided to break the rules that morning and closely inspect, even feel and shake, the gifts under the tree. As the eldest among we four siblings, I’d been given the task to conduct an inventory, a dangerous mission I accepted without hesitation.
Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less about what my brothers and sister had received that morning. The biggest box under the tree was for me.
My heart raced with expectation at the adventures hidden in that foil-wrapped box. What could this enticing treasure possibly be? I could hardly wait for the revealing of that gift, the pleas of my siblings to tell them the results of my inventory ignored.
After what seemed like f-o-r-e-v-e-r, Mom and Dad finally appeared. Yay!
Teasing us about waiting until after breakfast to open gifts and listening to our in-unison cries of “NOOOOOOOOO,” Dad commenced his service as Santa’s helper, doling out the gifts at a snail’s pace. My only real package was always passed over in favor of what turned out to be new socks or underpants.
Finally, Dad handed me the big box and announced, “To Barry from Santa.” I hungrily tore into that bright blue foil wrapping to reveal the best Christmas gift I ever received — The Fighting Lady.
The Fighting Lady was a motorized “assault battleship” toy on wheels equipped with a battery-operated, turreted gun whose rotation could be controlled by a lever on the ship’s “bridge.” Another lever shot plastic bullets across the room (often at my little sister) from the gun.
As if that wasn’t enough, Lady was bristling with depth charges and a spring-loaded, “flyable” airplane that could be launched from her decks. She had a loud fog horn designed to thrill boys and irritate moms. Wow, was she built. She had it all.
The Fighting Lady — she was the neatest, coolest toy a 7-year-old boy could receive in 1960. And she was the Christmas gift I best remember receiving as a kid, above all the others, even to this day 53 years later. She was my all-time favorite toy until, as young men are prone to do, I tired of her, ultimately finding more interest in real, flesh and blood fighting ladies.
In more or less in the same shape I received her from Santa in 1960, first my Mom and then I kept her lovingly preserved in her original box. Giving being more important than receiving, I gave her to my own son in 1988 when he was 7.
She was played with by another generation of boys, cast aside, and forgotten among my son’s newer, more desired toys. In the midst of decluttering and a score of household moves, she became lost at sea, the memory of how she disappeared now long gone. But one memory — the most important one — remains.
The thrill of that 1960 Christmas morning lingers, that memorable day when The Fighting Lady eased into the port of my of boyhood life bringing so much joy. While flesh and blood fighting ladies and giving (vice receiving) have become more important to me now, my childish ways are not completely, I suppose, given up. I wouldn’t mind having her back.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.