Every Christmas I waited for one gift. It would usually come a few days before Christmas, and it was never wrapped. But I knew it was coming, when I heard my uncle bound up the stairs, rather than plod one step at a time. “Is she here?” he’d bellow. I was always there. Where else would I have been?
As the only boy in his family, growing up with two sisters, one my mother, and a father who was more into gardening and puttering, than hunting or big physical exercise, I imagine he was thrilled when my mother was having a baby. I imagine he was a little disappointed when it was a girl.
But quickly he figured that it made no difference at all. And he would simply treat me like a boy. So, gifts of clothing, of which there were very few, were often blue sweaters or orange and black gloves and brown boots bought in the boy’s department. As I said, he didn’t buy clothing very often. What he did buy, though, was pretty spectacular. Especially for an “only child” being raised like a princess (as a recall). Barbies! Carriages! Baby dolls! All were plentiful. But they never came from my uncle.
No, when my uncle would come bounding up those stairs, I would just wait for it! What magical toy would it be? Lincoln Logs. Those little plastic Indians and Soldiers in their war stances. We’d play and make forts and have some big battles! Sets of tinker toys. And we’d build giant spaceship type structures. One time there were racing cars, complete with a curving roller coaster track. There was the police car, all black and white and heavy, that you could rev up by running it back and forth and then letting it go and the red light would shine and the siren would shriek. There was the police gear. And a badge I could wear. And we would play and run around the house. Never for very long, though. We’d start to play and then he’d run off to do some adult thing that he needed to do.
My mother would say “Sonny!” (what we always called my uncle) “Sonny! She’s a girrrllll!” But, I loved it all. The gun shot caps. Then he bought me real caps – the kind you stepped on and it sounded like pistol shots. There was a science kit or two, and then, one day, there was a “pearl” handled silver gun. It was big and heavy. You could cock it back and it would snap out a loud POP. I can still remember how it felt in my hand and how there were ridges on the inside of the hammer. Better, yet, this gun went into a holster – a black holster that went around my waist. Eventually I got a cowboy hat to go with it. And bullets on a cross strip. And boots. I was banned by my mother from playing outside dressed up like that because the neighbors might see. So I played inside. Lost in a world of Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Even Andy Griffith carried a gun! And, for that matter, Ellie Mae Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies prided herself on her shooting prowess.
As growing up will do to you, it changed things. And the Christmas came when the boy-toy didn’t get such a gleeful response from me; and it stayed unopened. “Hey, you didn’t open it… yet” he said, a few days in a row. Eventually the boy-toys stopped coming. Eventually we didn’t play together anymore.
These memories are vivid this year; the same year my uncle passed away at 92. I remember it because of how things have changed. And also for how they have not changed very much at all.
Today, gun toys for young children are not cool. But yet, they are on our shelves…waiting to be bought for little boys and little girls this Christmas. The violent video games target the slightly older children, whose unformed minds bounce between fantasy and reality. This December begins with terror. Terror from San Bernardino – but living inside all of us today. When we’re shopping at a crowded mall. Eating in a restaurant. Attending a concert. Now, when we’re at work at a holiday party?
Gun control. It seems an impossibility. The little tweaks are purposeful, but in fact, all the guns we will ever need are already out there. Guns are forever, but ammo degrades. It has a shelf life. Ammunition is gun food. If we can starve the guns a bit, or change the way ammunition sales are regulated and controlled, perhaps we can change the way guns are used. As Marc Ambinder wrote in The Week in 2012, “Guns need food. Starve them”. We can be distracted by all the focus on gun control – let us ask ourselves, what else can we do?
Here’s another thing we can do – we can ask to have these toys removed from our shelves. We can stop buying them. These are some of the gun type toys available for purchase on this one day in December in Rhode Island. They are at Benny’s, K-Mart, Toys ‘R Us, and Walmart stores.
The first store I visited was Toys R Us and while there were a few gun-like, nerf-type toys available, I didn’t see the more realistic looking, AK-47 types. When asked, the department manager told me, “I haven’t seen them here in this store in about 10 years. We stopped carrying them after Columbine.”
What will be our Christmas future? What terror will hold us close? How will we harden and adapt? Is this our new normal? I think about my children. My grandchildren yet to be. I hope they can find the answers. And we – the elders now – must stay engaged. Let us bring our memories of our own childhood and see what we can do to our tenuous hold on happiness and peace in our loved ones’ future. As Scrooge said at the final ghost appearance, “the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!” Let us pray there is truth in this tale.