Christmas gifts under the tree can please just about everyone. It’s a happy sight, because it is real evidence that you have someone who loves you and wants you to be happy on Christmas morning.
When I was a kid, the Wisconsin State Journal started the “Empty Stocking Club,” which was sponsored to buy gifts for the less fortunate kids’ stockings. The annual call for contributions featured a traditional line drawing of a child bent over on a bed, weeping, with an obviously empty stocking. It was a touching illustration, and one I still remember all these decades later. It served as a good reminder to me (who was probably going to be a little light on the gifts) that at least my stocking wouldn’t be totally flattened like that poor kid’s. (Back before political correctness, that’s what they were called — “poor kids” — including me.) Things have changed so much since that poor kid showed up every Christmas with a plea for something in his stocking.
It has made me think about stockings and their contents.
First, there are the “stocking stuffers.” These are tiny gifts that are tucked into stockings aside from the more formal wrapped boxes under the tree. Usually, these were candy canes, chocolates, and small things like nail polish or Matchbox cars.
Once, in a weary midnight stupor on Christmas Eve, after wrapping the last-minute gifts and bringing the others down from their hiding places and placing them under the tree, I had tucked some BBs into the toes of my two oldest son’s stockings. They had begged and pleaded and stated their cases for BB guns and I (the overprotective mother I was) kept saying, “No, you’ll shoot your eye out.” (Which you’ll understand if you’ve seen the movie, “A Christmas Story.”) When the boys got up, it was their tradition to peek into their stockings while eating a special Christmas breakfast. With chocolate-smeared faces they looked over everything — including the round cases of BBs. Whoops. They exchanged sheepish looks, but said nothing. Later, when the two long boxes came out from behind the sofa (just like Ralph), they suspected the contents on sight: BB guns. Once again, I had given in.
Whoever thought up those weapons of destruction, and thought it wise to put them into the hands of young kids who would in no way understand the force and velocity of the little BBs, was not a parent.
The Daisy Red Ryder beginner’s set included a soft, red flannel “case,” and 750 BBs. I have heard some horror stories about siblings shooting each other, and the neighborhood bully, and the windows of the garage, and maybe winging the cat in the keister — but we had no such incidents of vigilantism or destruction.
Brian and Chad couldn’t wait to get outdoors to try their new weaponry. The kit came with targets, some of the gallery variety, and then about a dozen of a dark silhouette of a man. That one bothered me. Was I encouraging cold-blooded murderers? I am not sure what happened on the first day of wielding their Red Ryders, but something took place. They were in the backyard up in their tree-house, shooting at the targets they’d posted in the next tree. Then something happened. To this day, I do not know what, but they came scurrying in and put the rifles back in their red flannel cases, and that was it.
We played the new board games, had dinner, and spent a peaceful evening together. All three boys nodded off — their eyes heavy after the excitement of waiting up late for Santa. In the quiet, I wondered if the experience of holding a rifle and shooting it at a target had taught the boys anything. Maybe the power of a weapon, maybe the ability to inflict pain on a helpless squirrel, or maybe even shoot the paper man on the target through the heart.
For the most part, the BB guns stayed in the closet. The boys liked having them — it seemed to be some important rite of passage for boys their age. It was something to brag about on the playground, but not all that much fun.
My irrelevant point — if there is one — is don’t put items related to other items in those stockings, or you tip your hand a few hours early. The BBs could only be for one thing, which taught me something about a more careful distribution of presents.
Merry Christmas, gentle readers! Take care, and don’t shoot your eye out!