When The Magic Almost DiedbyDirt Man©
This particular story came about from a memory of a childhood experience. A lot of what takes place in both part 1 & 2 are actually the way I saw the events happen then.
1957 was a great year for cars, each makes and model seemed to have their own personality. Of course it took two years of tinkering around with the buying public's money before the carmakers in America could get it right. Strangely enough, for me at least, it also took Santa two years to get my request right as well. But then maybe he was patiently waiting for the great Mattel Toy® manufacturers to get their act together as much as my father was waiting for Ford Motor Co.® to find perfection here in 1955. At six, the oldest of two children, and having seniority over my tow headed sister Bethy by close to two years, I had to be the responsible child. As first born toe head, (That means I had Blond hair during my childhood.) I had to set an example, for of all things, the most incredibly boring mental midget to ever live to the ripe old age of four without being killed by her brother, that's me of course, I'm Dunkin. I was a three and a half foot tall scourge of the west. Well, west Lorain, Ohio at least, that's the side of town we lived on, moved around in, always moving out of one house into another one, but always on the west side.
In Lorain, everything west of Broadway is the west side of the city, though in truth, to most of us who live there, the Black River is the dividing character. I for one never knew why they named it the Black River, as it is always a distinct muddy brown in color all the way to green Lake Erie, but then I could never understand why God would chose to tag, what I would later call female perfection, with the ungodly name of Kathy Pankratz. However at six years old on Christmas Eve, I had no idea of either the river or my first love to be, in fact my mind was locked on one of the greatest toys ever to make its way to the toy section of W.T. Grants® department store.
It all started back in September, on my birthday, when my grandmother on my father's side took me shopping with her, I being her favorite, of course, was to have my choice of any one toy at any toy store in Lorain, but we never really got any further than W.T. Grants® toy department. Grandma Betty never wasted money on buying me clothes, she always said;
"That's your parents job. My job is to spoil you rotten. Or what would be the fun of being a grandma Dunky? So you just pick the toy you want, just one toy mind you, but any one that you want."
Of course picking just one toy from such a vast array piled to the ceiling in row after row of endless isles would be like trying to find the perfect cherry from an entire orchard of cherry trees. But being six years old I knew that I was up to the challenge as my grandmother took a seat the store furnished for old people nearby, so as to be ready when I made my choice. It took me no less than two hours to find the one thing I couldn't have.
As I walked through each isle, I took note of where each potential toy was placed, my mind cataloging toys in degrees of price, prestige, and near rapturous muscle constrictions. However greed is measured for adults, it isn't something that a child is conscious of when it comes to price or prestige, so I journeyed through the forest of toys, for the most part just basking in my momentary glory, until I came to the last isle. Having three great selections tucked away in my brain for my final decision, I waved at my grandma as I turned back to re-look the finalists over. This was always my signal to her that I had narrowed the choices down to three so that she could join me.
Grandma Betty caught up with me just as I was entering my favorite isle, the one where all the Mattel Toys® were stocked, and where all three choices waited for me. That's when it happened. Two store employees, dressed in those white shirts, gray slacks, and black bow ties were just locking up the big wooden special, 'Coming Attractions,' display case. As I had been wandering, they had been working, and as we started past the glass case I came to a screeching halt, nearly tripping my grandmother.
"What is it Dunky?"
I had no words to explain to my grandma what had to be, to me, that most perfect of all toys in the whole wide world. The only thing that would come to mind was love, and no six year old boy in their right mind would admit to knowing the first thing about love to an adult, let alone to their parents or grandmother. Still, grandma Betty was a very special person, and if I was to get her help I needed to say something.
"Look at those guns!" Was all I could burst out with.
Yet what else could one say about perfection? There they were, a pair of chromed steeled, faked pearl handled Colt 45's in a genuine leather double holster set that, save for the color, was a perfect replica of what the Lone Ranger® wore every Saturday morning on our TV. In the belt were leather loops and each one had what looked like a real bullet in them, though upon closer inspection showed them to be perfect molded fakes. However it was the two six guns that had really stopped me up short. In all the cap pistols up to that time none of them had anything more than a snap in half that you put a whole roll of caps into where the cartridge should be, firing endlessly, as no true good guy ever ran out of ammo back then. However Mattel Toys® had out done themselves this year, or was about to as the display showed, by putting bullets in a revolving chamber, just like the real ones my heroes used to fight injustice. Mattel had done it, they had at last come up with the perfect child's replica of a real six-shooter. Best of all, you could buy a single or a double holster, depending on who your TV hero was, the display announced. It was the toy of toys as much and more than any red-blooded six year old American boy could ever hope to own in his lifetime. They weren't just throwaway steel and plastic toys, they were the stuff of legends. The only problem was, they wouldn't be for sale until November, just in time for the Christmas rush.
My grandmother went back to sit down as I slobbered at that view case for the next hour leaving several sets of fingerprints as well on the glass, of what I later re-christened, that Big Wooden Gun case. I told you, she was a very special person. It had to be hard for her seeing my rapturous public display, for what she considered, a perverse toy at best. Even at age six I knew something about World War II due to the fact that my father and all of my uncles had served in that war, as well as the Korean Conflict. Well, I knew that they had all seen action, but they never talked much about it, even amongst themselves, just acknowledging facts as we asked them in turn for some school project. I guessed that was because not all of the uncles had made it back alive. I had seen the hidden medals of my dad, and knew that he was a true hero in every sense of the word. Always kind, he never raised his voice, preferring instead to give you those patented looks of his. With just a look, I could tell if my father was proud, disappointed, or pissed off at me, or anyone else for that matter, and when at last I rejoined my grandmother with the Fort Apache box firmly in hand, the set with the saddles and bridles, tomahawks and guns, I knew where he had gotten that disappointed look from. My grandmother hated guns.
Christmas starts for kids right after Trick-or-Treat, Thanksgiving is more of a grownup holiday as the department stores well know. After all, what do children get out of Thanksgiving but the obligatory cheek pinching torture, and the mass of vegetation, and manners forced down our throats at fork point, before we are allowed one Lilliputian sized slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Not to mention that we had to keep spotless when every hormone in our body cried out for mock combat in the cold dirt outside under the wonderful camouflage of piles and piles of raked leaves with cousins, and friends we only saw once every holiday. We all had our own weapons of choice, of course, though mine were usually made by me from wood and cast away nails that I would straighten after finding them around neighboring construction sites. However, I had plans to change all that by Christmas day with a letter to Santa.
Since we children were relegated to the basement to play, where we couldn't get dirty, each of us had time to talk about what we wanted for Christmas. The boys, my cousins, Wayne, and Randy, and my best friend Bobby were hunched together in our corner, and the girls Bethy, Becky, (she was Bobby's older sister), and Diane, Wayne's younger sister, over on the other side of the basement. In retrospect, I'm sure that with all that blond hair we looked like those kids in the movie that would later come out called; 'Children of the Damned.'
"So? Are you going to tell us or not?" Wayne asked just as impatient as Bobby.
"They're six guns," I proudly announced, "with chrome barrels and ivory handle grips, that's where the roll of caps go, and the holsters are real leather!"
"Big deal," Bobby scoffed, "I have the same thing at home, and you've seen them."
"No you don't," I challenged, "not like these, not where ya actually can load bullets into it one at a time, like John Wayne does."
"But the cartridges would have to go into a revolving cylinder Dunk," Wayne argued, "and they don't make them that real."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you, Mattel is coming out with one this year. I saw the display myself, swear ta God! It's supposed to come out in November."
"This is November," Bobby spit back at me, "and I haven't seen it yet."
"I'll bet ya a quarter it goes on the shelf tomorrow," I dared them both. Now since a quarter back in 1955 could buy any kid a great deal of candy they both had to take me serious.
"Shit!" Bobby always swore, and it seemed he never had to eat soap for it either, but I knew then that they both finally believed me.
"I heard that Bobby!" Becky said standing next to me.
Why hadn't we heard her join us? Becky was different than my sister, and my cousin Diane, though she was only a year older than them. I couldn't put my finger on it exactly, but she seemed more human than the other girls, more confident, and sure of herself, even around boys. I don't know if was the fact that she wasn't related or what, but I liked her, purely as a friend of course, but I liked her none-the-less. The fact that my cousin Wayne liked her was probably due to his always trying to look up her dress every opportunity he had, like now, as she stood there over us in her white and powder blue trimmed short petty coat dress.
"Get a good look?" Becky taunted him, as she always did, making us all laugh, "and what's so important that you'd bet a quarter on it?" She asked me.
"A new gun that is coming out," I answered, almost blushing.
"You mean the Colt 45's?" She asked, "The ones made by Mattel?"
You could have heard a bullet being chambered in Cleveland right then, and birds could have nested in our four open mouths we were so startled.
"No bet!" Bobby finally broke the silence, "I believe ya Dunk."
"Oh, did I ruin a bet?" Becky asked, then, "I'm sorry Dunk."
"Don't worry about it, at least they believe me now. But I am curious, how'd you find out?"
"We live up the street from the Lorain Plaza now Dunk," she answered simply.
Like the Malls that would later come all across America, these plazas were their vanguard in the 50's. Usually with two major grocery stores, the Lorain Plaza had both a Fisher's, and a Pick-n-Pay at each end, with a Rexall drug store, a Hough Bakery, a Barber shop, a Laundromat, a paint store, and of course the great W. T. Grants department store right in the middle of it.
"They were right next to the new dolls put out yesterday," Becky continued, "I thought they were real guns put there by mistake until I saw the Mattel stamp on them."
"Wow!" Wayne cried out, jumping to his feet, and Bobby and I joining him next to Becky, "You know what this means?"
We did indeed, it meant no more cheating by Bobby about not running out of ammo, only adding more realism to our battles. Of course it didn't mean that we shot any straighter, as he could still say the other guy missed, but it was a step in the right direction at long last. And each of us swore an oath, that very day, to own at least one of these real six shooters.
"Dunky, you better not swear, or I'll tell mom," Bethy said poking her index finger into my right arm.
"I've told you not to touch me!" I yelled, furious at her for the millionth time.
Bethy had to have the worse memory in the world as she was constantly poking at me. I was convinced she was trying to see if I was real or some kind of ghost. Now I've always been a very patient person, even back then, but every hundred or so pokes, I just had to push back. Since that was poke number 105 in less than two days, Bethy landed on her rump. The screech that rang out through the basement once she found herself on her hind end, could surely be heard in California. As it was, it only needed to be heard upstairs, and I gladly bore the solitude of my aunt's bedroom until the great bird feast, a hero to my fellow freckle faced, tow headed resilient buddies. It gave me plenty of time to plan my strategy for the coming Christmas.
The very next day, with my mother's help, I sat down and wrote up my Christmas list for Santa. Mom showed me how to fold my letter, and put it in the envelope. Then she told me how to address the envelope; Santa Clause, 1 Santa Clause Lane, The North Pole. She also reminded me not to seal the flap of the envelope, but to tuck it inside, just before giving it to her to mail for me. Later that week, me and the mental midget got the chance to talk to Santa personally at the Sear's® toy department down town, just to make sure that Santa would remember me when he opened that letter of mine.
Oh sure, I knew that this wasn't the real Santa, that this man was one of his many stand-in spies through out the world. Every kid knows that, accepts it, and none of us in our right mind would ever think that the great one could be everywhere in the world at once, not at this crucial time of year, when he was really up north getting ready to fly. But it never hurts, with a message of this importance, to have a back up way of getting pleas to the wizard of the north land. But then of course no kid has just one back up plane for this time of year. After all, there are all those presents under the tree, that say, from Mommy, from Daddy, and of course one mustn't forget the obligatory Christmas day feast at Grandma's house, where even more presents waited for us from her, or from uncles, aunts, etc. usually clothes of some kind, but not always.
You see, unlike most kids, I realized after watching; 'Miracle on 34th Street,' that Santa was more of an arranger of things, not necessarily the bringer of every gift in the world to every child, mental midget, and grown up. He was the Boss of Christmas Gift Exchange really, knowing exactly --through our letters, his secret agents, (Those Toy Store Santa's) and a vast network of elves dressed as children-- which people to make responsible for giving what gifts to those who needed them, and which gifts he would ultimately have to deliver himself due to the nature of certain requests on the big night.
It made perfect sense to me, since I knew that no matter how fast that sleigh flew on Christmas Eve Night, that there was no way Santa could visit every home in the world, nor should he have to. After all, his was a labor of love, and the magic of love worked wonders we kids were only just beginning to comprehend, but no such labor is ever laborious, of that we knew most certainly. Why else would a monstrous fired clay ashtray --made as a school project-- in bright purple, red, blue, and green become one of the most honored gifts in our home for years. I also knew from Dickens's; 'Christmas Carol,' that Santa was the ultimate spirit of Christmas, giving him certain magical powers as it were, thus he is the saint in charge of God's Birthday over all, and not just for us kids, but for everyone.
Looking through the front window next to our well lit tree on Christmas Eve, I gazed in awe at the special star speckled white powder dancing a ballet until it settled on every tree branch, shrub, roof top, and the ground itself outside. I took this to be a sign from the big man himself that all of my work hadn't been in vain, and that he had forgiven me for scrounging around the attic. Yes, it had been there, as yet unwrapped, but still in the W.T. Grants® paper bag. It had been the ultimate struggle of my young life not to open that box with the clear plastic window made by Mattel, and just try that rig on for size, to make sure that it fit of course, but I had managed, and I was sure with this snow that my mastery of my impulses had cemented my receiving perfection from either my mother, or my father tomorrow. After all, the view outside was nothing less than magical in its pristine splendor, and just right for a...
"... a sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer," my mother said, reading 'The Night Before Christmas' to Bethy.
"Hey Dunk! You gonna help me finish lighting the tree or what?" My father asked.
"You bet dad," I answered, "just checking out the snow outside."
Christmas Eve at our house was nothing less than miraculous in that it was the day that we always put up the Christmas tree. Usually everyone else in the world had theirs up for a week already, but my dad was always adamant about not buying a tree too soon.
"They dry out, and then become a fire hazard," he said when ever anyone asked him why he waited until the very last minute to purchase our tree.
Of course we knew better, as it was also when the prices dropped down to where my dad felt he could afford his pick of the best trees left on the lots. I still don't know how, to this day, he always managed to bring home the best Christmas tree in all of the world, when so many people had already bought theirs. The tree he always brought home, was never too tall to put the special lighted star on top of, it never was too big, or too small for the living room, never had gaps or missing branches in critical places, and when it was up and fully decorated, looked like a perfect pyramid of lights, garland, globes, and tinsel that awed even me. No tree, even those in stores, or at the nation's capital ever compared to ours in sheer beauty, form, or most of all light dazzling, Christmas magic.
Only dad and I did the lights, and though mom and Bethy did help with the decorating I always cherished this special moment of honor as my father's helper, "bearers of the lightening," he called us, "and the magic," I always added. When, after every bulb, strings of lights, popcorn, wreaths, and tinsel was in place, with the special brilliantly white sheet underneath wrapped around the stand at the base, we would all celebrate with cookies, and hot chocolate flavored Ovaltine®. A rare moment for us two kids, as it was the only time we were allowed to eat or drink anything in the front room, as we shared an hour of glowing enchantment, before getting ready for bed. Even Bethy seemed to understand that this was a special moment, as she acted almost human, not poking at me the whole day.
For some reason the ritual bathing, brushing of teeth, and obligatory nightly prayers all seem to make sense on Christmas Eve. To me it was a cleansing, or act of purification, making us worthy for the gifts that we were about to receive. A sort of reaffirmation of God's greatest gift to man that we were really celebrating by exchanging gifts with each other. And, I supposed that like his sacrifice for all of us, though of much more significance, was essentially the same kind of torture we needed to prepare ourselves for Santa's visit. Still, I would have rather taken my bubble bath alone than with my sister, and God knows how hard it was for me not to drown her every night, let alone this one.