The Gift That Keeps On Giving

hulk-santaFor the kids from my generation, the only thing we anticipated more than the arrival of Santa, was the Sears Christmas Wish Book. Countless pages of dreams and possibilities starting with several items under $10, then 20 and 50.  Next, the winter boots and gear, followed by pictures of ladies in their underwear (tee hee), and then we’d skip ahead past clothes and other practical things to get to the toy section.

There never seemed to be enough spaces in the order form for all the things one desired. Monopoly games, Fisher-Price garages, race car tracks, dolls, action figures and play sets! Oh My.

Although as much fun as the catalogue was, ordering from it was a rarity. As a child, our family lived close enough to St. John’s that we would often pile into our lime-green Pontiac Astre and take the 3:45 ferry from Bell Island (the first one you can get after school) and drive to the downtown Water Street location of Simpsons-Sears to not only see these wonders, but touch them as well.  On the store’s basement floor, I remembering seeing a Star Trek playset AND a riding lawnmower. I didn’t know which I wanted more.

A Christmas tradition in our house was new pajamas for Christmas Eve, and in 1977 I wanted a pair emblazoned with my newest hero, Spider-man. They didn’t have them at Simpsons, so we ordered a pair from the Christmas Wish Book.  When the pajamas arrived at the post and brought home for a vicious unwrapping, a note attached said they were sold out of the Spider-man pajamas and they sent a pair of Incredible Hulk pajamas instead.

What the fudgesicle?

No, this will not do.  This was horror on a Roch Carrier scale.  This was so beyond not getting a Rocket Richard jersey. Not to mention how much I despised the colour green, especially the colour green these pj’s were in, a kind of moss-like non-committal shade of green. It looked like the colour itself didn’t have any interest in being attaching to the garment and gave up halfway through the dyeing process.

By the time the pajamas had arrived, it was too close to Christmas and no more trips were being taken to Town, so it would have to be Incredible Hulk for Christmas Eve.  Hulk smash indeed – a little boy’s dream for Spider-man pajamas!

Simpsons AdI normally went straight to sleep on a night like this, occasionally awakening and catching the faint smell of turkey being prepared.  However, on this night the fibres of the Hulk pj’s itched and scratched and generally annoyed me into a fitful toss and turn.  Bruce Banner himself would have hulked out on principle if he was forced to wear this thing.

I just had to get up.  Nothing would settle and least of all me. I slowly descended the stairs toward the living room entrance, and around the corner I could see my parents at the dining room table.  I could spot a couple of things that I knew were on my brother’s Christmas list.  Nothing of my own though. But it was then that I realized… my parents were helping Santa!

Is that why we couldn’t look in the pantry under the stairs? They needed to hide the fact that they were hiding stuff for Santa?

Before I was seen, I went back to bed and any scrutiny I had for my jarring jammies was set aside.  I don’t how I got to sleep that night, but I did.

On Christmas morning I didn’t scamper down to see what was under the tree. It was more a wander in to see what was inevitable. I unwrapped the presents without surprise or excitement. It’s not that I was ungrateful, but a part of me wondered if my parents were in on this whole Santa thing,. If so, why did we have to wait for a special day to get presents? Surely, these things can be acquired anytime, can’t they?

Two things that morning were indeed a surprise.  Firstly, an orange in the toe of my stocking.  I hate oranges, this day and then. My parents knew this.  Why did they allow Santa to keep giving me one? Was St. Nicklaus partially responsible for curbing the outbreak of scurvy?  A quick scan of medical journals offers no illumination on this.

The second surprise was the more welcome gift of a transistor radio.  Made by Candle Electronics, it was about the size of a hardback novel. Two knobs of the front controlled Volume along with AM/FM band tuning. I had been paying close attention to the radio in our kitchen at the time, transfixed by the voice of Ron Pumphrey and his open line show.  I would stare at the red glow from that kitchen appliance utterly bewildered by where that booming voice was coming from. I’d look in through the slats of the speaker, trying to see if there was a little man in there.

Now with my own radio and knowing there wasn’t a little man in there, I was still mesmerized by how different sounds would arrive just by moving the dial up and down between the numbers.  And then there was the smell.  There is a particular aroma that a transistor radio has, one which it retains in a way unlike many other inventions of our modern age. If you have an iPod, for example, think about what it smells like?  Does it even have one?  If it did, what memories would it evoke?

A few years ago, I was on vacation in London, England and I bought a transistor radio from a convenience store. Bought to listen to various BBC Radio stations, once I opened the package and got a whiff of the device’s smell, I was conveyed back to my bedroom on Bell Island – yet again that boy who marvelled at the static and signal of Paul Bradbury broadcasting from Q-93; hearing the strains of Jean Michel-Jarre’s “Oxygene Part IV,” the backing music for VOCM’s “Would You Believe;” or that really weird broadcast when Richard Sanders, Les Nessman from “WKRP in Cincinnati” was a guest on OZ-FM.

Even though I’ve made radio in various ways from one end of this country to the other, I’ve never forgotten that sense of wonder at the heart of radio.  It’s still the most mysterious of media and should always remain so. When you see broadcasters put radio shows on TV, the result is like dinner theatre. Not a great dinner and not great theatre.

Smell is one of the hardest senses to transmit. Although it can be replicated, the effect smell has on memory is profound. Imagine the Christmas season without the scent of the tree or a turkey cooking in the oven.  In my singular way, the smell of a transistor radio still evokes Christmas, and the gift of possibility and wonder. With any luck, a gift you give or receive this year will create endless wonder for someone you love.