This week, as my 5-year-old son, Jayden, opened his Christmas gifts, I got to thinking about the world he lives in, comparing it to the world I lived in at the same age.
This year, we watched an array of Christmas “classics,” none of which were even around yet when I was 5. We didn’t even have a VCR — VHS or Betamax — much less a DVD player, for a few more years.
In fact, when I was 5, the TV didn’t come on at all on Christmas Day. We just opened presents, seemingly all day in my case.
We started at home with the presents Santa left under the tree. Barely over the excitement, I had to tear myself away from those gifts to get dressed and go to my paternal grandparents’ home for more presents.
After getting what was always the biggest gift of the year — when I was 5, it was my first “real” electric train set — from the “Santa room,” we would settle in for a Christmas meal.
The meal was always my grandmother’s special hamball recipe. I’d sit at the counter and watch as she ground the ham, pork loin and hamburger she would use with an “old fasioned” meat grinder.
She cooked them in the broiler, while her mashed potatoes were going on the stovetop. She cooked “little smokies” — sorry, their “official” name is just too weird for me to say even as an adult — in her fondue pot.
She didn’t get her first microwave oven for a couple more years. I remember it was quite expensive. My grandfather bought it from the local Amana dealer downtown.
I was the “only grandchild” at the time, and my uncle had just married his wife, so the table wasn’t all that crowded. But, there would be just enough time afterward to load up the presents and head off to my maternal grandmother’s home in Ames.
At the time, that’s the side of my family that had produced all of my cousins (eight of them). So, there were a lot more gifts, and much more food. As the third-youngest, I also was relegated to the “little kids table” for the meal — there was the adult table, the young adult table, the kids table and the little kids table.
I usually fell asleep somewhere between Ames and Boone on U.S. Highway 30 late Christmas Night.
I don’t think I ever actually played with a toy received on Christmas Day on Christmas Day. I always assumed that’s what it meant on the calendar when it said Dec. 26 was “Boxing Day.”
“Time to finally crack into these boxes and play with some toys!”
Back then, we lived in a two-story home my father purchased for $15,000. Sure, it was a little bit of a fixer-upper, but it was a very fine house.
I still remember my dad going on and on about the purchase price of that house when we went “car shopping” for the first time when I turned 16.
One of the gifts we got for Jayden this year was a videogame. When I was 5, all we had for home videogames was a box that gave you five variations of “Pong.”
The Atari 2600 came out the next year. We had the six-switch console that allowed you to transmit a color or black-and-white signal to the television.
Yes, we had black-and-white TVs “back then.” In fact, I purchased my first personal TV for my own room with money I saved up when I was 11 years old — it was black-and-white, too.
Our living room TV was color, but frequently blew through color tubes. Yes, I watched a lot of black-and-white TV as a kid. A lot of black-and-white TV.
So, it was a lot of fun to help Jayden crack open his toys — including his first “real” electric train set — and help him set them up. On Christmas Day, no less.
To a certain extent, it was a little bit like reliving that part of my life all over again.
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If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.