My Strombecker Christmas

I was a big fan of Christmas, even though I knew there was no Santa Clause. My Dad not so much, largely because of the commercialization of the season even in the sixties, and because he knew it was really just a Christian adaptation of a pagan holiday. Easter was the most important event on the Christian calendar for him, and with the exception of a few rare outbursts of anger, and relying on the strap too much in his early teaching  years, and a completely outdated view of sexuality, he was probably the most Christian man I ever had the privilege to know. What he hated most was the need to get a tree, and to cut it, and put it in a Christmas Tree stand so it was as straight and tall as he was.

The tension between mum and dad around this essential part of Christmas was so thick you could cut it with a hatchet. I remembered this many years later when I had my own kids, and this became my responsibility. One Christmas in particular, I ended up throwing my first two purchased trees in a snowbank after being completely unable to get them up, and the third needed to be tied to cup hooks in the wall. The next Christmas we bought an artificial tree.

I loved all the Christmas rituals and traditions, the Christmas concerts, the carols, cracking nuts, Christmas oranges,  candles, Christmas dinner, the nice clothes.  I liked Coca Cola and the Coca Cola Santa, though I never left cookies. I especially liked shopping for presents in Winnipeg, though of course like most young boys, I was most excited about unwrapping presents on Christmas morning.

I must have been a bit of a pest, and my parents were finally earning more from teaching than from selling milk and eggs in town; and after 1964 we had a nice new bungalow with indoor plumbing and a rec room, home to our b & w tv. So I did what boys who started watching tv in the 1960s did –  ask for that very special Christmas gift. I had two major successes, and as often happens, they turned into small disappointments.

One Christmas I pressed hard for skis. I watched “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”  on ABC Wide World of Sports. Most boomers can remember the spectacular skier crashes at the end of the opening for the show. I had no idea there were different skis for downhill, for jumping, and for cross country, which really hadn’t caught on in the 60s. My parents got me a lovely pair of downhill skis and boots to go with them. I hoped to go flying down the side of a mountain, but ok, we lived in Manitoba, so I figured any old hill would do. The closet I ever got to downhill were the snow-covered hills made from country pond excavations. So I hatched this idea with my father, of skiing behind my horse. We would harness Dancer, and I would put on my boots and skis and away wet went.I had trouble managing her pulling a sleigh when I had reigns to work with. Imagine telling her to giddy-up, and I’ve got both hands on a rope! I’m sure my effort to have fun  was hilarious to the townspeople, as where my attempts to cross country ski in downhill skis, but they were maddeningly frustrating for me imagining how much more fun I should be having.

My favourite gift, and my favourite toy ever in the Gretna bungalow, was a Strombecker slot car racing set. I developed a passion for watching Formula One car racing. There was a time I could name every track, and recognize it by a diagram of the course. I ordered car racing books from Scholastic, and my first published story in Wee Wisdom magazine was called “Roger Clark at Indianapolis.” I felt guilty about kowtowing to the needs of  a North American market, besmirching the honour of  F1 racing, by featuring ” the brickyard” and cars only turning one way. My hero was Roger Clark, though, a Brit F1 champion (modelled on Jimmy Clark I think) showing the Americans he was the best driver in the world, no matter what the track.

It was a fairly specialized gift, and to be sure I got what I wanted I was allowed to shop for it with my parents one Saturday doing Christmas shopping, on the 5th floor of the Bay. Strombecker was the class of the field and I got the best my parents could afford. They wrapped it up and put it under the tree.

Now I always was the kind of kid who was up at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas morning, though I was made to wait until 7:00 a.m. before I could wake everybody and the festivities began. Those two hours of anticipation were some of the happiest moments of my childhood. I would put German Christmas Carols on the Grundig hi-fi, which could hold multiple vinyl albums on its spindle, dropping them one at a time. I played the carols so softly only I could hear them, and then lit many candles. We never actually had candles on the tree itself, which was just fine with me. I would plug the Christmas tree lights in, admiring some special ornaments like those fancifully designed as if they might have been middle eastern, something the three Wise-Man might have appreciated, and the one that hung above a Christmas light, the heat turning the angel, but not quite as spectacular as the cherubic angel driven by small thin candles that would turn tapping small bells work like wind chimes, ringing.  We will have one of those this Christmas too. I realize this memory is actually more true in our Winnipeg house, but in feeling the warmth of the season I’ve run them together.

Though I did get to unwrap the Strombecker set in the morning, I was not allowed to put it together until after church and Christmas lunch. I wads one excited kid, assembling the tracks and putting the cars I could recognize – though modelled on wider F2 (F3?) on the track. It was fun, and everything worked well for the first week, the biggest problem finding somebody to race with me. Unfortunately there were not many of my friends that were as excited as I  was about F1 or the whole slot car racing thing, and inevitably problems started to develop, eventually closing one of the lanes and cars. So we were left racing against the clock which was never as fun. I probably got the shirt I’m wearing for Christmas,  likely 1966 or 1967. I was keen on paisley, had a crush on Twiggy, and had heard about London’s Carnaby Street.  I’ll leave my education in fashion and etiquette for a post in 2013, as well as my more contemporary Christmas celebrations this century.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! My next post will be January 1st, 2013 with lists of books and music I liked in 2012. If anyone else wants to share their best of 2012, please send an email to [email protected].








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