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Memories of Christmas gifts can outlive the presents

To our kids, we downplay the gift-giving (or at least gift-receiving) aspect of Christmas.

But let's be honest: Anyone who has celebrated the holiday has that one memorable toy, opened on one magical Christmas morning.

One December night last year, Lindy and I and the kids snuggled in front of a fire and Lindy recounted a touching story about a special Christmas present she had received as a child and how meaningful that wonderful gift was to her even today.

I think it was a doll or some shoes or something.

I wasn't really listening because I was thinking about the coolest gifts I'd ever received, like …


The Pedal Fire Truck

When I was five, I got a red pedal fire truck. I would wear my plastic fire helmet and pedal up and down the driveway. It was adorable.

At the same time, my sister Vicki got her driver's license. We owned a 1976 Chevy Vega wagon. One sunny summer day, since I was a big boy driving my big truck, I parked in the driveway. Behind the Vega.

I was playing in the yard when Vicki backed the Vega over my pedal truck. Not only that, she continued to back out of the driveway, shift into first gear and drive away with what was now a ball of red metal wedged under the Vega's bumper. The screeching could be heard clear across the neighborhood. That screeching came from me.

"Star Trek" Action Figures

By the time I was nine, I had amassed a formidable collection of 8-inch and 12-inch action figures.

Then came the Christmas that I ran downstairs to find a set of "Star Trek" figures! With the carrying case that doubled as the inside of the Starship Enterprise!

I felt just like Kirk must have when he was seduced by Marta the Orion, the green alien woman on the planet Elba.


Though that analogy comes now, that's not what I was thinking when I was nine.

That summer, for some reason, I made handkerchief parachutes for each of my figures. Then I climbed a tree and threw them off. Many, if not all, of the parachutes did not open. When I climbed down, my collection lay in pieces.

To this day, it is still considered the single worst skydiving accident in the history of action figures.

Many action figures, for those unfamiliar with their inner workings, are held together by a stretchy string connecting all four limbs. When that string breaks, the limbs fall off.

I collected the body parts in a box. Then I fell on the ground and sobbed.

My father, willing to do anything to stop my damn blubbering, set that box on his workbench and started restringing insides and reattaching limbs.

For whatever reason (maybe it was the sheer number of body parts), my dad spent less time than I would have liked on matching up the correct heads, torsos, arms, and legs.

I'm not trying to sound ungrateful, but there's this:


When he reassembled Spiderman, the figure had Peter Parker's head, torso, and arms. But he now sported two disproportionately large black legs (from my 12-inch black G.I. Joe).

Sgt. Deacon, from "S.W.A.T.," had a black head but a white body.

Ponch from "ChiPS" had his normal head and limbs, but his torso was that of Dr. Zira from "Planet of the Apes." Dr. Zira was a female chimpanzee with human woman chest parts. To this day, I feel strange inside whenever I see Erik Estrada on television.

The Nemo toothbrush, the pregnancy test, the $1 doll

In a family tradition that dates back a decade, our kids (now ages 14, 11, and 6) buy their Christmas gifts — one each for their siblings and Lindy and me — at the dollar store.

Sure, the kids get other, more expensive Christmas gifts, but they've never gotten more pleasure in choosing anything as much as the dollar store gifts.

We save opening those for last.

For Lindy and me, they choose mostly gag gifts. I got that Nemo toothbrush, because, well, I watch "Finding Nemo" every time it's on, whether the kids are home or not. I got the pregnancy test because, well, the kids sometimes pretend my slightly expanding stomach is a growing baby.


But the dollar store doll was for Lindy.

Emma, 6, had picked it out for her.

All of us figured Emma had really bought it for herself.

It turns out she hadn't.

"I thought," Emma explained to Lindy, "that it looked like that doll you told us about. Remember, the night on the couch? I thought," Emma told us, "this looked like that doll you loved as a kid."

Steve Lange is the editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.

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