Monday, December 24, 2012

My Best Christmas Present

Me wrapping Christmas presents at our Pennsauken, NJ apartment - 1964

Well folks, here we are finally at Christmas Eve.  Came around pretty fast again this year didn't it?  

On Christmas Eve I often think of my Christmases past.  Like most kids growing up in the Fifties, I believed in Santa Claus and really thought I was going to get what I wanted if I was a good boy all the year.  Most of the year I was a Good Little Boy, at least the months leading up to Christmas.  I was hoping that Santa had a short memory.

Santa Claus

Of course I was always disappointed on Christmas morning when I open my presents to find a pair of gloves, underwear and maybe a toy or two. One Christmas I was especially disappointed.  I wanted an electric train in the WORST way.  Since I was the oldest of my parents three boys, I thought I would be the American Flyer electric train set.  

The year was 1952. I was eleven years old.  I could hardly sleep on Christmas Eve.  At dawn's early light I go tearing into the front room (we lived at a second floor apartment building on 120 Washington Avenue in Downingtown, Pennsylvania; a suburban town of 5,000 souls west of Philadelphia).  

Me (the beanpole in the center) and my "competition", my two little brothers in 1953
I see the HUGE package under our skimpy tree.  THAT MUST BE IT!  That package surely couldn't contain more clothes.  I pull the package towards me while my brothers Isaac and John stand behind me in their pajamas. But before I open the package my Mom says "This is for ALL YOU BOYS".  Well, I didn't know the term "WTF?" then but I thought the equivalent of it.  FOR ALL OF US?  WHAT?  

I open the package. Yes, it is indeed the American Flyer Electric Train set.......FOR ALL OF US.  Now exactly how was this going to work out? 

Of course right off the bat, while Disney cartoons are playing on our black and white, 15 inch Philco TV, I get into a dispute with my brothers as to who was going to put this train together and run it.  This was terrible!  What was my Mother thinking?

She resolved the problem of "sharing."  I was to get the engine and coal car.  Isaac, the middle son, was to get the two middle boxcars and the tracks.  John was to get the next to last box car and caboose and the electrical switch box.  

So how did this work?  Of COURSE IT DIDN'T WORK. This was one of the worst decisions my Mother ever made.  To say I was a "bit" unhappy wasn't the least of it.  I was VERY unhappy, and that's saying something because I was generally a very happy kid.  

Me at 10 years old - the happy little fisherman with my worm box - 1951

Long story short, I gave up the train to my brothers.  They could have it.  That was the Christmas I went without.  

Fast forward to Christmas 1969 with My Bill.  I was working in center city Philadelphia at that time.  At lunchtime, I used to visit an art store on Chestnut Street. One painting I admired greatly was a ship sailing in the ocean.  Oh how I loved that painting.  

I wanted that painting so bad but couldn't afford it because it cost $250.00.  I was only making about $80 a week at the bank.  That was almost a month's pay for me.

Christmas 1969 rolls around.  Bill and I return from spending Christmas Day with my parents in Downingtown. Our tradition was to open our presents to each other on Christmas Day Evening.  

I see this big package on the coffee table in our living room at our small townhouse on Naudain Street in Philadelphia.  "What could THAT be?"  

I saved that package for last.  When it came time to open it I was truly flabbergasted.  WOW!  For the first time in my life Santa actually brought me something that I wanted and LIKED!  My life was complete now.

I couldn't thank Bill enough.  So this is what it feels like?  I felt just like all those people in the movies and commercials who open their presents and are truly surprised. SUPER!  

Yes, that's me in my "western outfit and cigar (don't ask) - check out the painting over the fireplace - 1971

I hung that magnificent painting over our fireplace in the living room at our house in Philadelphia.  Over the years that painting has always occupied a prominent place wherever we lived.  Now it hangs over my bed in my bedroom.  Every afternoon before I take my daily nap and every night before I go to sleep I look at that ship "sailing the blue ocean" and get a familiar warm, comfortable feeling remembering back to that Christmas that Santa came through.

Merry Christmas!

Me with my Best Christmas Present - December 23, 2012
Me - 1971 - Philadelphia
Remember the Oscar Wilde story "The Picture of Dorian Gray".  That's the story where the picture of the man aged but the man didn't age.  This is the opposite, "The Picture of Ron."  The man ages but the picture doesn't  Ah yes, Fleeting Youth.  How sweet it was. 

Bill in our Philadelphia living room, front of the fireplace with the wonderful Christmas present - 1970


  1. KEWL story! and you still have the painting AND bill!

    1. And I'll have both Anne Marie until I die. Merry Christmas!

  2. Anonymous2:52 PM

    Fortunately, I guess, I was so much older than my brothers that a shared gift such as the train set wouldn't have been an option. Fortunately, too, my dad made enough money that Christmas was always a big day, toy-wise, for all four of us kids.

    It's really neat that you still have the gift. I'm not sure I've got anything from that far back except a stuffed dog named Teabag, given to me by an aunt, event long forgotten.

    Touching post. Great Christmas memory!
    Peace <3

    1. Jay M.

      My brothers and I are only a year apart in age. My Mom was pretty smart in most everything but she really screwed up this time. Even my brothers were disappointed. But then I don't think she had much of an option, we were pretty poor back then. You were lucky.


  3. It is an impressive painting, Ron. Happy holiday!

    1. Thank you George. I love that painting! Happy holiday to you too.


  4. Merry Merry, Ron, to you and Bill!

    1. Same to you Bob! Have a merry berryM

  5. My parents gave me a Lionel train at age 5 and I was "too young" to play with it. I think it was my father's gift to himself. In later years, I did spend many hours playing with that train. Now I collect and "play with" Marklin Z gauge (very tiny) trains. My favorite is the Orient Express. I also have the Atlantic Coast Line train and others. Also, I love to ride trains, especially steam excursions.

    I love your picture and understand how you cherish it all these years. It is beautiful.

    You were a handsome dude --then and now!

    MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and Bill.


    1. David,

      I think when we were younger we usually got an orange and some school clothes for Christmas. I don't remember any toys. I do remember my best friend getting a lot of cool toys though. But the. He was an only child. My parents didn't have much money. Living from paycheck to paycheck.


  6. You are a gem Ron! I love your stories and photos. The painting is just beautiful. I am so happy that you guys found each others. That is the best gift ever! Merry Christmas to both of you!

    1. Thank you Nadege. A very merry Christmas to you!

  7. Anonymous4:21 AM

    Me, gay man, screenwriter... poking around the web for some retro Christmas inspiration for a scene I'm writing.

    Saw the image of you wrapping gifts in 1964... top of this page. Thought... hmmm... now there's a hottie...

    I was the designated gift wrapper in my family... but don't think I looked quite as cute navigating ribbon and scotch tape.

    You've changed little since then. Lovely blog.

    Best in 2017, my new unknown friends.... to you and Bill.

    Johnny Francis Wolf


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