Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood-Christmas

Me & Santa in downtown Muncie at one of the department stores; Ball Stores maybe or perhaps Sears & Roebuck.

As I look back on it now, Christmas was as much my mother’s holiday as it was mine.  Perhaps, even more so.  It was her time of the year.  She could spend all the money she wanted, decorate the house with a myriad of ornaments, and cook and bake to her heart’s delight.  We had electric candles in the windows, a Styrofoam candy cane held together with straight pins and taped over the archway in between the living room and dining room, and lots of synthetic icicles hanging off of the artificial tree that was overloaded with light bulbs, glass balls, and garland.  Goodies filled tin jars and metal trays.  Gifts were stuffed in every possible space around the sparkling plastic pine.

Notice the tree loaded with ornaments & the Christmas cards taped to the wall.  Mom always taped all the cards around the archway.
 I remember the food.

Ham. We always had ham sandwiches. Homemade macaroni & cheese.  Baked beans.  A fruit salad that was a blend of red (probably strawberry) Jell-O and Cool Whip. Lots of fudge….and I mean a lot of fudge. Mixed nuts still in the shells.

Mixed nuts still in the shells bring up a question: Does anyone else wonder why they would put Brazil Nuts still in the shell in a bag of mixed nuts? They have got to be the single hardest nut to shell by hand!

I remember the gifts.

A Hot Wheels race track. Tinker Toys. An Erector Set.

My folks did get me an array of gifts that they probably regretted. The noise-makers. One year, I wanted a guitar. Got it. Never learned to play it. Another year, I was going to be a drummer, so Mom bought me a full-fledged drum set. Snare. Bass. The whole bit. I pounded and pounded, but never learned how to play them correctly or with any semblance of rhythm.

When I was a teenager in middle school, they finally got me something I could play quite well. A stereo system. I’m sure after just a few hours of Billy Joel, The Bay City Rollers, Kansas, and several others rattling the windows and vibrating Mom’s knickknacks off shelves, they probably were wishing for a “do-over.”

Another Christmas, in the earliest years of video games, I wanted a wanted Pong. It seems quite crazy by today’s standards, but back then, Pong was the bomb with its little electronic ball screaming across the screen. There were three games in one: Handball Pong, Tennis Pong, and Hockey Pong. Hockey was the best! Anyway, I had a little black and white TV set in my room, and I desperately wanted a video game.

“Mom! Can I have a video game for Christmas?”


“Please Mom. Please. I really want it. Please?”

“No. I’m not getting you a @#%$& video game.”

However, after all the gifts were wrapped and placed under the tree, I began to snoop. I found each one with my name on it, picked it up, shook it, and squeezed it. One likely suspect fit the profile of an electronic device. It was about the right size. It had the feel of protective packing. Hmmmm.

Could it be? Could Mom really have bought me a Pong game?

That’s when I got clever. I walked into her bedroom where she was lounging; surrounded by her police scanner, clock radio, and TV…all going at once.

“Hey Mom!” I said with manufactured excitement. “Thanks for getting me the video game for Christmas!”

Of course, I didn’t really know that that was in fact what it was. I was going for the telling reaction, but she was good, and didn’t give it away.

“I didn’t get you a (bleep, bleep) video game.”

“Okay. If you say so,” I said.

Nothing more was said. I went off to my room to watch my little TV, and she went back to her police calls/Conway Twitty/JR Ewing medley.

The next day, I strolled into my sister’s house down a few blocks on Monroe Street. I spent a good amount of time there as a kid, mostly because I was close to my nephew, David. David and I were more like brothers, and in fact I was closer in age to him than I was to my sister, his mother. Anyway, I walked in the front door, and the conversation went like this:

My sister: “Mike, did David tell you what you got for Christmas?”

Me: “Nope. You just did.”

I remember the parties.

In my family, Christmas was comprised of two major events. First, there was the Christmas Eve party where our extended family always came over to eat and exchange gifts. Second, there was Christmas morning where it was just me, my folks, and the stuff Santa brought. Later, when Santa stopped bringing me stuff, Christmas morning was just a time to sleep in and recover from the previous night’s festivities….and the bigger gifts that my folks didn’t want to give me in front of everyone else.

There were things you could count on for Christmas Eve at my house. Good food. A big party. A number of arguments. A gift exchange. And, finally, an all night Monopoly game between me, David, and my niece Krista.

There were also a few things that you could never really count on…

1. You never quite knew what time my sister would show up. Her preparations were always last minute and invariably, we always were waiting for her to arrive well beyond when she was supposed to have been there.

2. You never knew when the fussing would start and who would be involved.

3. You never knew who would be willing to endure the torture of handing out the gifts. No matter how it was done, it never met everyone’s satisfaction with regard to how fairly they were distributed or at what pace.

One other thing that you could actually count on was air pollution. When I was a child, everyone who wasn’t a child smoked. They smoked a lot. On Christmas Eve, besides my Mom and Dad, usually, my sister, my sister-in-law, their respective fellas, and a smattering of other adults would be over to the closed-up-for-the-winter house…all smoking away to their heart’s distress. As a result, my nieces and nephew and I would retreat to either my bedroom or the basement to get away from it. We would only come out for the food and the presents.

The schedule of events for the adults went like this….


Of course, we were all excited for the presents, so we wanted to start opening them right after the meal. After the last food dish was put in the sink…

“Can we open presents now?” rang out our childhood voices.

“After we have one more cigarette,” replied the adults with the soiled lungs.

“Ahhh, man!” we’d reply as we headed back to the basement.

Now, we’ve all grown up and we’re in charge now. These days, the smokers have to go outside and out to their cars to get their nicotine fixes. Turn-about is definitely fair play.

As I close out this chapter in my Muncie Boyhood series, I want to share two other Christmas stories:

First, my sister had a husband named Lewis. Sometimes he could be nice enough, but a lot of the time he was a…a…a….not so nice guy. This particular Christmas, he told my sister that he’d like to get some Blue Stratos cologne. In her own special way of getting even for some way that he’d mistreated her, she told EVERYONE in the family that he wanted some Blue Stratos, and that we should get that for him. “He would love it!” she said.

She told everyone independently….and everyone complied.

Every few minutes, he would open a gift….and every few minutes he got another bottle of Blue Stratos. I’m not sure how many he actually got, and it didn’t make him any nicer of a person, but at least he smelled good.

Secondly, on Christmas Eve in 1978, I brought my girlfriend Toni over to the house for our family party. This was my first year having a guest, and her first experience with my family as a whole. I was a bit nervous, but all went well enough. No major knock down, drag outs, and it was a fairly painless party as our parties went.

Around 9pm, we decided it was time to take her home. After all, she had an 11pm curfew, and there was no time to waste. She lived about fifteen miles away and I only had two hours to get her there.

Perhaps you are wondering why I needed so much time to go such a short distance.

Well, you see, we liked to “visit” with one another during the drive home. She lived out in the country, and as I recall there were five stop signs between Highway 32 and her road. We would stop and “visit” at each one. Sometimes, if we had the time, we might take a detour further out into the country so that we could “visit” even more. On this Christmas Eve, we took one of those detours and found ourselves stopped in the middle of no where, “visiting.”

After a time, I looked down at my watch and realized that it was 10:55 pm.

“Oh man! We’ve got to get you home!” I said with a touch of panic.

Her dad was not one to fool with when it came to curfew.

We sped off in the direction of her house. There was just one problem. We were coming from the wrong direction.

“You can’t turn in from this direction!” she said. “If dad sees you, he’ll want to know why we were coming from that way!”

“Okay,” I said as we hurried past the house. “I’ll go down to the corner and turn around.”

There was no time to waste! We had to hurry to not be late!

Did I mention that on Christmas Eve in 1978 it was quite cold, and very icy?

Very icy!

About a hundred yards or so from the corner, I applied the brakes to stop and turn around. I hit the brakes, but we didn’t slow down. Instead, the rear of the car began to fishtail. Then, the fishtail became a full out spin. I’m not sure how fast we were going when the spin began, but my dad’s ’68 Chevy Nova did loop after loop all the way through the intersection until we came to a stop on the other side. No need to turn around now because we were facing back toward her house.

Whew! We didn’t hit anything and nothing hit us.

There was no time to contemplate just how lucky we were because we only had about a minute to get back to her place, but I can tell you that the feeling of relief was palpable.

Mission accomplished, and unless she has told him about it over the years, or unless he reads this blog, her dad never knew about our near disaster on Christmas Eve.

There are other stories, but I’ll stop for now. Merry Christmas to all. Take a few minutes to consider the good times and the blessings, and perhaps pass along some blessings to someone else. May Santa stop at your house too.


  1. What a great story. Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your post in the Lost Muncie page. I live in Henderson, NV now and it's very comforting to spend some time looking at my childhood home.

  2. Good stuff Mike... you had me cracking up! Nothing quite like "visiting" with our girlfriends as teenagers :-) Great memories! You, Nancy and the girls have a great Christmas!

  3. Luv it Uncle Mike... I can just picture it. ;0)