Holiday Herald: Don't judge a gift by its price, but by aggravation

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This past Thanksgiving, my grandchildren were discussing their Christmas wishes. Items like iPad, laptop, app and smart phone were sprinkled through the conversation.

"What was Christmas like when you were little, Grandma?" someone queried. The VCR of my mind rewound to the 1930s and '40s.

I don't remember asking for any specific gifts. I usually requested a doll -- the generic type. My Aunt Rose sewed clothing for them.

One Christmas in the 1940s was defined by the gift for my brothers Mike and Jack -- it was the year that Santa brought them BB guns. While I was helping my mom fix breakfast, they attempted to shoot all the ornaments off the tree. It was a particularly dry tree that year, and although my mother managed to stop them before all the balls were gone from the tree, she was unsuccessful in saving the needles.

A custom at the time was for relatives to visit during Christmas week and admire the tree. I remember our visitors were at a loss as to what to say about ours that year.

In the 1950s and '60s, when my four kids were young, name brand toys were just making an appearance. Daughter Marybeth wanted a Little Red Spinning Wheel in the first year I remember going from store to store in search of the popular toy. We finally did locate one.

Although the TV commercial showed that spinning wheel transforming yarn into all sorts of wonderful things, Marybeth never mastered anything other than a red, knitted circle of yarn that grew longer and longer. She knotted a 30-inch piece of it and proudly presented her father with his new necktie.

I remember him leaving the house for an important business meeting with that mass of yarn tied under the collar of his white shirt. He came home that night with glowing reports of how the tie had undoubtedly clinched his insurance sale that day. To this day, no one has ever asked him if he had a backup tie in the car.

Another year, son Michael asked for some sort of gun that shot out cannon balls. I found it in early November at an Associated Hardware in a local shopping center. Smugly, I put it on layaway with several other toys until Christmas Eve, when I picked up all the packages held together with twine.

At about 8 that evening my husband started assembling toys. I opened the cannon box, only to find it empty! I drove to the shopping center, but the store was closed, with an emergency number posted on the door. If this did not qualify as an emergency, I don't know what did.

I found a pay phone, and the number I dialed connected me with the local police. Evidently, the officer who answered had children of his own, as he gave me the home number of the store manager. When I called, he was quite sympathetic and apologetic but unable to do anything. He said the toy had sold out in late November.

He expected a new shipment in January and said he'd gladly give me one, free of cost, at that time. Having no such toy to wrap on Christmas Eve, however, had to be a parent's worst nightmare!

I went to a local Sun Drug, probably for aspirin for my anticipated headache. Walking down the toy aisle, I spotted a green plastic cannon that ejected ping-pong balls. It was priced at $1.99.

What did I have to lose other than two dollars? I took it home, put it into the empty box and placed it under the tree. The next morning I held my breath as Michael opened the box. He squealed with delight and proceeded to bombard his sisters with his cannon balls.

On Dec. 26, I returned the empty box to Associated Hardware, declined the offer of the free toy and left with double my money back as a show of apology. Since then, whenever my children show signs of apoplexy from difficulty finding a requested toy, I remind them of that cannon story. It was the best two dollars I ever spent!

I find it interesting that the holidays most remembered are often those perceived as a disaster at the time.

I also know that the passage of time tends to turn even the worst of them into pleasant memories.

intelligencer - holidays

Pat Trapani of Penn Hills can be reached at The PG Portfolio welcomes "Holiday Herald" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.


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