Sheltered Islander: Christmas Gifts 101 on Shelter Island

Vintage Christmas gifts under the treeWEB
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Do you have a tree up yet? As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the tree to go up. It was great family fun decorating the tree. We all ate treats, sang songs and drank eggnog. There were two bowls of eggnog on the table—one for kids, one for adults. We had lots of homemade decorations—painted clamshells, conchs with glitter, small crabs, all hung with ribbon.

Then there was the issue of tinsel. One camp, the good people, artistically draped the tinsel on the tree branches so it created elegant, flowing silver lines. The other camp, the bad people, who were drinking too much adult eggnog, just threw the tinsel on the tree. They said it looked “natural.” It can’t look natural because pine trees don’t grow tinsel in the wild! But my stewed, I mean stupid, uncles ignored us and threw tinsel on the tree, so now it looked like it passed through a tinsel cyclone. No matter, we good people would straighten out the tinsel after the initial assault was over.

As the ornaments went up, there was the usual recitation of the history of any special ornaments, followed by the fighting over over the history of any special ornaments.

“Me and Margaret got this pink flamingo in Vegas.”

“No, Jimmy, we got it in Florida at that awful hotel with the green furniture. You never remember anything right.” “It was Vegas. I bought it from a street vendor.”

On and on it went…

The next day, the family would start putting presents under the beautiful tree. It required a lot of stealth maneuvers on my part to locate my gifts. Gradually I’d move them to an area, almost behind the tree but still visible from the front. I didn’t want my gifts being trampled by my four rotten little brothers, who tore paper from presents on Christmas morning like sharks in a feeding frenzy.

On Christmas morning, after the savages had done their worst, I would sit and calmly open my presents, saving bows, savoring the sound of each little tear in the paper. I loved decorative tape and would make flower ornaments with it to put on the tree.

In 1968, I was 12. I got the game Mystery Date. It changed my life. There was a nice selection of outfits and shoes. I learned about style, and that sneakers don’t go with everything. There were six male, fully dressed cardboard figures to date. Regardless of where you went, the male cardboard figures just stood there and made no attempt at conversation. Little did I know that’s how it would be in real life, too.

That year my brothers got Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em battling robots. They didn’t talk. They moved around like they were sizing each other up for battle, once in position, without warning, they’d sucker punch the other guy. Fighting over nothing, not using their words, another preview of the future.

The best gift I got was a black 8 ball. You’d ask it a question and turn it over and the answer would appear. The answers were general and applicable to any situation. This was the most useful preview of the future. My 8 ball could still answer my questions today. All problems are risk/reward rolls of the dice.

I remember I got 13 presents that year, and that’s still my record for gifts received. The benefit of being an adult is that whatever you didn’t get for Christmas, you can ask him for Valentine’s Day.

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