Growing up, getting gifts at Christmas was always a crap shoot, hit or miss, depending on the economy and the familial resources. But my folks always tried. The Christmas of 1984 they needed to try a bit harder as it fell very much into the "Completely Fucking Missed" category.
To be honest my favourite part of Christmas morning wasn't the wrapped presents, it was always the stockings, laden with the usual suspects: Terry's chocolate orange, deodorant, socks, underwear. The highlight for this geek was the comics or Starlog magazine rolled into the top. 1984's offering was a huuuuge oversized Star Wars comic, which I still have to this day. The night before Christmas always saw my brother wallowing in surliness and the parentals wallowing in double spiked eggnog, everyone yelling, snapping, or snarling. The dysfunctional norm was strangely comforting.
Christmas eve also always found me studiously pouring over the toy section of the Sears Christmas Wishbook with an unparalleled level of consternation. Had I made the right choices? Had I missed anything? Had I gone overboard? Oh god oh god this was so monumentally stressful! Page 574 promised a slithering battle at He-Man's Snake Mountain, and on page 581 Mr. T pitied the fool. I would pass on page 570's Go-Bots (lame), but holy living shazbot check out Blackstar's Ice Castle on page 577! I closed the book with finality. I was confident I had made the right choice: The Star Wars Rancor Pit Monster action figure.
I went to bed early so as to avoid the inevitable taunts from my brother that my parents had lied to me and I was adopted. Little did he realize that this was a fantasy I had long entertained. I'd even created a fictional biography of my life with my birth family, a life where my name was Jack and I had a one-eyed highly evolved telepathic Irish Setter, also named Jack, and these parents let me wear a pith helmet. So it wasn't so much my brutish brother's antagonizing as it was the accompanying Charlie Horse I could do without.
I lay in bed, materialistic images tripping over each other, visions of returned Jedi's and 8-bit Donkey Kongs igniting my imagination before I drifted into reluctant slumber. I awoke as I normally would, with my brother earnestly smothering me with a pillow. I went limp and feigned death until he panicked and fled the scene of the crime, and then I giddily rushed downstairs, immediately bolting to the object that monopolized my field of vision: The Incredibly Plastic Christmas Tree.
I don't know how my mother even saw me through her puffy and bloodshot eyes, but her leg shot out, an autonomous appendage, like the Kraken's mighty tentacle, sending me sprawling headfirst amongst baby Jesus and the Lincoln Log Nativity Scene. Uprighting the 2 fallen Wise Men and the Obi-Wan Kenobi that was subbing for the third dog-chewed oracle, I rubbed my shag-carpet-burned chin and glared at the matriarch as she quietly hissed "You will not ruin Christmas...Again. SIT".
I was on notice. And I was sitting. Now I normally don't cotton to being told what to do but I had the wherewithal to realize that a 9" Rancor Pit Monster with 5 count 'em 5 points of articulation was at stake, so I adopted an attitude of fatalistic resignation. Little did I realize that this posture would later manifest itself as antisocial passive aggressive behaviour every December 25th for years to come.
My mother doled out the presents in much the same manner as she did punishments: methodically and painfully drawn out, the corners of her mouth twitching with sadistic glee. My preliminary gifts were neatly piled beside me according to size, a board-game that no-one would play (Tri-Ominos or Othello I believe), some Doctor Who and Fighting Fantasy books, my Annual Bow-Tie (a poor decision early in life that haunted me every Christmas), and something polyester I'm sure, all overshadowed by the anticipation of The Main Event.
I knew the drill. My parents would pretend that all the presents had been dispensed, wait approximately 20 agonizing minutes, and then my father would request I get him something from behind the Amazing-Lava-Colored-Shag-Carpeted-Formica-Topped-Bar (a not uncommon request), and there, gasp, would be one last "forgotten" present, the Main Event. I played along every year with Oscar worthy faux verisimilitude, as it had become almost a Christmas ritual, much like the bow-tie.
I knew something was terribly amiss the second I picked up the parcel. It wasn't boxed. It felt like clothing, and...something else. This definitely wasn't Kenner. I cautiously peeled back the tape, thinking the longer I took to unwrap it the more chance it had to reform into something with corners. The Rudolph adorned wrapping paper fell away revealing The Item. I honestly wasn't sure how to react. This was definitely not the 9" Rancor Pit Monster with 5 count 'em 5 points of articulation, nor was it clothing.
It was a durable canvas traveling/hiking knapsack.
"Uh, thanks?" was all I could muster, as shock and dismay enveloped me in a khaki canvas shroud. "There's more inside" my old man said, his gruff baritone touched by a hint of a smile. Undoing the metal clasps with a not quite steady hand I reached into the bag with trepidation and pulled out the coup de grace: Jumper Cables, very much lacking 5 count 'em 5 points of articulation.
It didn't take long for the realization to set in that this was a preparatory gift, you know, for when I "hit the road, Jack". To be honest, over the years I've got a lot of use out of both the knapsack and the cables, and like the oversized Star Wars comic, still own both today.