Monday, December 15, 2008

What's your Red Ryder BB gun?

Remember what Ralphie Parker lusts after in Jean Shepherd's wonderful "A Christmas Story": "An official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle (BB Gun) with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time"?

My Red Ryder BB Gun was what I called a high-heel doll. This was in the days of yore, before Barbie, guys, and the doll I wanted was about a foot tall and she had an, ahem, woman's figure and she wore high-heeled shoes. My mother, bless her, bought me one, but the one she picked was blonde. I hid my disappointment and kept the doll, but I mean, look at me, am I blonde?

It seems so silly now, but those feelings came back to me awhile back when I bought my daughter (she's now in her 30s) her lusted-after doll: Kid Sister. She opened it and I recognized that dismayed look. Turned out I'd purchased a knock-off (in this case brunette instead of blonde). I returned it the next day, but she still trots this story out every Christmas to demonstrate how cheap I am.

So, what was your Red Ryder BB Gun, the present you lusted after, and did you get it?

RHYS: My best story of Christmas longing came when I was eighteen. Transistor radios had just been invented. (Okay, I'm giving away my age here, I admit) They were really expensive. I really wanted one but a dear friend was getting married in Germany over Christmas and had invited me to be bridesmaid. So my parents were paying for my fare as
my Christmas present.

So I didn't even mention the transistor radio. My parents weren't overflowing with cash. Then on Christmas morning I opened my stocking (yes, I still had a stocking at 18) and the first thing I found was a battery. I stared at it wondering why on earth anybody should think I might want a battery for Christmas. Then the thought gradually crystallized... it couldn't be... they couldn't possibly know... I dug through the stocking and there, at the very bottom, was my transistor radio. I still get weepy when I think about it. It was my father, of course. He was such a kind and perceptive and generous man.

HANK: OH, Rhys, even I get weepy when I hear that story. Transistor radios were such a big deal. I was glued to mine, listening to the top 40. And the battery! No wonder you write suspense!

Anyway, this is probably some deep psychological thing, and Roberta will want to come right over and talk or something. But I must confess, I don't remember wanting--or getting--anything in particular. Oh, I did want stuff. And our Christmas mornings under the tree were an embarrassing array of presents for my parents and for all us kids. I think it was even Christmas when I got my first pony. But I don't remember, exactly.

It must be some sort of object lesson: I do remember, perfectly, the Christmas when my parents decided we weren't going to have a tree, and on Christmas Eve, my sister Nina and I sneaked out and got one, and put it up in the middle of the night, surprising everyone. And I remember we always got chocolate oranges in our stockings, the kind you whap on a table and the sections come apart? I can't even look at those now without welling up.

HALLIE: Hold on, Hank. You got a PONY?

RO: Ah yes, I remember getting my first PONY...I think mine was a handbag...

HANK: Okay, yes, I'm laughing. We lived in what was then pretty rural Indiana. We had a big barn, and there were four
-going-on-five kids, and yeah, we got a pony. A Welsh pony named Sable. And from then on, we all had to muck out stalls before we went to school. Happy New Year!

ROBERTA: No, no Hank, I'm not rushing over to chat. You sound just fine:).

HANK: Oh, whew. (I mean, not that I wouldn't love to have you come chat.)

ROBERTA: My sister and I got a transistor radio too--we're 11 months apart so we often ended up sharing (and that's another story for a different day!) I was a huge doll fan--distinctly remember the year I asked for and received Patty Play Pal. (Isn't that an awful-sounding name?) But I really, really loved Barbies. There were four of us kids, and we got plenty of loot, but never as much as my only-child cousin. We'd head over to her house for Christmas dinner and I'd disappear into her room for hours to play with her stuff. Barbie's Dream House, Barbie and Ken and Barbie's sister and Ken's convertible, and racks and racks and racks of outfits. No wonder I like spending time with my characters...

JAN: Hard to choose from among all the toys I so desperately wanted for Christmas, ...I had three older brothers, so I was always longing for girl stuff. Easy Bake oven, (never got it), the light up vanity (got it), but most of all Tressy. Tressy was supposed to be competition for Barbie, but with a button in her stomach that made her hair grow to any length. I wanted her, I got her, and then I took her to my best friend Karen MacVicker's. Karen had two older sisters and every possible Barbie outfit. As it turned out, the outfits didn't fit Tressy, who immediately seemed second rate.

RO: I don't remember lusting after anything in particular. I was not a Barbie gal, or any dolls really. Calling Dr. Roberta...

do know that I NEVER wanted whatever it was that Aunt Mary got me. Nice woman but not only did the woman choose the worst presents for kids - umbrellas, rubber boots, goofy hats, stuff no kid wants - she got all twelve of us the same thing in different colors. And of course we'd each have to open them and PRETEND that we didn't know what it was. (Sorry Aunt Mare.)

I did get the EasyBake oven one year which cooked with a light bulb. Very strange. After you used the box of (I'm sure it was all chemicals) cake mix, I don't remember what you were supposed to do.

HALLIE: That Easy Bake oven ended up on the "dangerous toys" list some year or other because it could burn you...duh.

I had one and I have to say it was one of the best toys ever. It had tiny little boxes of cake mix that you could actually whip up and cook in tiny little pans. And I did it all wear my Mom's frilly apron. (I DON'T THINK SO! My mother who wore high heels just about 24-hours a day would not have been caught dead in a frilly apron.)

So, gang, what was your Red Ryder BB Gun?

And tune in later in the week--Wednesday WRITER MAMA Christina Katz will be visiting JRW, and she'll be talking about that mysterious entity, a writer's platform, and how to "Get Known Before the Book Deal." Friday we'll be welcoming mistress of all things mysterious Janet Rudolph, editor of Mystery Readers Journal.


  1. I remember getting a Patty Play Pal too! And also a Tressy doll--or maybe my sister got that.

    I had an aunt (great aunt really since she was my mother's aunt) who always arrived late for Christmas. She'd swan in empty-handed while her beau du jour would be just about disappearing under a mountain of packages. She always brought you either the BIGGEST box of all (the steamboat playhouse with four changes of scenery that I adored and wrote plays for) or the SMALLEST box (my first pair of earrings.)

    She was an Auntie Mame type character and she really *made* Christmas!

  2. My Red Ryder BB Gun was yarn ribbons. Red, blue, green, all sorts of colors and they came in a cellophane bag. I had already snooped through the presents hidden in their bedroom closet, so I knew I'd be getting them that year. Christmas Day came and no ribbons. I acted all pouty, sitting there surrounded by opened presents, and mumbled,"I really wanted yarn ribbons." (What a brat!) My poor mother shouted, "Oh
    the closet! Go look in the closet!" All was right in my little world. Hmm, Dr. Roberta...?

    I had the Easy Bake oven, too. Probably why to this day I can't cook.


  3. What I really wanted and nver go was a Chatty Cathy doll.
    What I did get and loved every year from one of my aunts as a "real" present. Like stuff to make real cookies-the recipe, the rolling pin, cookie cutters etc.
    Or some craft stuff-the real adult stuff not some watered down cheap kids version. I loved every one of those gifts. Need I say my mother did not since it fell on her to help me do the gifts Aunt Phyllis sent?

  4. I was pre-Barbie, but probably wouldn't have wanted her, anyway. My parents usually chose gifts for us that were educational or would make us more socially responsible. My grandparents, however, bought whatever they thought children would like or the latest craze--not always age appropriate or appropriate for us. I know my sister and I got fishing rods one year, but they were salt water rods, and my Dad was a fresh water fisherman. But one year they bought us the Tony Doll and the Makeup doll. I know we played with them, but those who know me know that that childhood apprenticeship didn't carry over into my adult life--nor in my sister's. Neither of us care much about makeup and hair now, but I can still smell and feel the waxy face of the make-up doll --and the smell of the Tony doll's perms.

  5. Oh, I was Barbie mad! My deepest desire was one of those giant Barbie heads that had hair that pulled/grew out of a hole at the top so you could style it. She also had her own make-up with which she could be decorated. I was so thrilled when I opened her up.

    My other Barbie delight was the Dream House (of course). I didn't get it until I was ten, and kept my sisters out of it, so when I was twelve I still had it set up in my room. I'll never forget the tone of scorn in Cathy Parson's voice when she said, "You're in sixth grade and you still play with Barbies?" I still wither at the thought...but I wish I'd kept it forever.

  6. When I was 9 I got the Suzy Homemaker washing machine. To this day I don't know what possessed me to want an appliance, but I wanted that so badly and was so thrilled to find it under the tree. It really did work, too.

  7. Look at what we were receiving as presents and playing with--it's a miracle we all turned out so well. Karen, I think you win the prize for the washing machine. Wonder who does the laundry in your house now???

  8. ACK! Roberta's right. All those toy ovens and washing machines and toy vacuum cleaners (anyone else get one of those? mine choked on tree tinsel) What were we thinking?

    I did adore my Annie Oakley rifle, and there was the chemistry set that almost set the house on fire.

  9. Okay, I remember now.

    I really, really, really wanted an ant farm.

    I pleaded and begged, left drawings of ant farms all over the house, all carefully and strategically taped to the fridge and various doors.

    Ant farm, ant farm.

    I did not get one.

  10. Hank, I'll buy you an ant farm if you still want one!
    But the interesting thing that came from this discussion is how old we all were when we were still playing with toys. I got one of the first hair style and dress dolls( a bit bigger than a Barbie but same idea) when I was 10 and played with her for several years in the secrecy of my own room.
    Today it seems that kids are past the age of toys by eight or nine.
    (unless they are like me and never grow up)

  11. Oh, Rhys, you are too generous. Thank you, so much, and I still kind of do want an ant farm, but I fear Jonathan would flip.

    Do you know the hilarious comedian Stephen Wright? As part of his ultra-droll routine, he talks about how he never understood ant farms.

    What do they grow? he asks.

    Does anyone know anyone who actually had one?

  12. I had an EasyBake oven AND and ant farm. Obviously I led a privileged life.

    Madame Alexander dolls--the Barbie precursor. They came in two sizes and I had them both. Yes, they wore heels and had a "womanly" figure (but no bras--go figure). I named my first after Maid Marian of Robin Hood fame.

    My sister got the Patty Play Pal.

    But maybe the most relevant gift what the toy typewriter I received when I was four. Look where that got me!

  13. Oh, I had Madame Alexander dolls, too. They were gorgeous. Elegant. I had one with a red velevet coat, with a big fur collar and muff, very Anna Karenina. (pre-train...)

    But--so, what's the scoop on the ant farm???

  14. I had a baby doll called Pat-a-Burp that I loved when I was very little. Not sure what the attraction was: you put it on your shoulder, patted its back, and it went uuuurrrrrp.

    But I loved that doll.

    I also had an Easy Bake oven and remember how fun it was to make the little layer cakes with it. I'm pretty sure I burned myself with the pans once or twice. I was (and am) sometimes a kitchen klutz.

    Best Christmas gift ever was a sneak ride in the front seat of a small airplane. My grandmother's gift. I think my parents were nervous or forbidding or both, and so she made arrangements on the sly.

    Twenty years later, I was the one giving rides to kids. My grandmother, bless her, was cool.

  15. I have never had an ant farm. Never wanted one. The thought of deliberately introducing creepy crawly things into my bedroom does not inspire joy in me.
    I once had to feed the neighbors tarantula while they were away. I am NOT an insect person!

  16. I wanted a pony -- but, as with many prayers, it didn't come exactly as I'd dreamed.

    I got an early wood-grain Breyer horse, circa 1960 (or was it 1959?)

    He's accompanied me to the hospital for my tonsillectomy (Have you ever slept with a Breyer horse? I have. Ouch) and to my desk in my college dorm room.

    He's now prancing on our sideboard in the living room.

    Hank - once I've built a larger readership on The Horsey Set so that I can invite authors to share their horsey memories, I'll be looking you up. :)

  17. I had a Steiff horse, Cinnamon. And yes,

    And yes, Rhys, I loathe insects up close. But I do think they are fascinating from a distance. (Like with the ant farm glass between us.) I mean--how do they know what to do?And so--diligently?

    Thing is, these days, I've wondered about the cruelty level of an ant farm. It seems sad, all those ants in captivity. So I guess my parents were right.

    Even though I'm sure their hesitation came more from the possibilty of a massive "ant escape" than from compassion...

  18. Never wanted an ant farm. My daughter has always been creeped out by ants. It's a little irrational.

    I had Madame Alexander dolls, too. Between us, my sister and I had all the Little Women and, I think, three of the Sound of Music children.

    And Roberta, who does the laundry in my house? I do. Of course. I mean, I had early training.

  19. Hank, can you be happy with a description of an ant farm? My boys had one years ago and couldn't keep the ants alive longer than a few weeks. (I'm not sure what the normal lifespan of an ant is.)

    The farm comes as white sand in a plexiglas frame about 10" long x 8" high x 1/2" thick. The top of the frame is performated for air and to add sugar water for food (I think) and regular water to moisten the sand for the ants to "drink." It comes off at the beginning to add the ants, which come in the mail separately.

    The fascinating part of an ant farm is watching the ants start to tunnel all through the sand, creating little compartments. When an ant dies, it is walled-up by the other ants.

    Alas! Watching ants work and die is no longer sufficient entertainment for today's kiddos. I found this listing for the Xtreme Ant Sports Park:

    "Watch as live ants carve out rad tunnels in an awesome 360° ant viewing zone. See them take on antrageous skate loops, climb the radical rock climbing wall, challenge the ragin’ street luge speedway and catch Big Air in the BMX biking arena. It’s the most fun ants have had since they skated off the farm. Includes 2 built-in magnifiers for up-close extreme ant watching, break resistant and escape proof habitat, tunneling sand, guide to Xtreme Ant Watching."

    Apparently my Red Ryder BB Gun was the Cowgirl Outfit I'm wearing in an adorable Christmas morning photo. (I did want and get a Chatty Cathy for my 5th birthday. My sister gave her a bath, so she only burbled after the first month.)


  20. OMG, I realize I forgot to mention the Betsy Wetsy doll. Does anyone remember those? You were supposed to stick a bottle of water in one end, and--surprise!--it came out the other end! (Remember, they hadn't invented disposable diapers yet.)

    The problem was, inquisitive children liked to experiment with different stuff in the bottle, and poor Betsy ended up rather stinky.

    Those were the days, eh?