I decided this Christmas to send the distant young ones cash instead of the gifts that first come to mind — slingshots, knives and warm clothing that, despite my best intentions, probably would instill childhood nightmares.
I will dole out the money in sustainable amounts since I expect to live to be an esoteric uncle at age 92. I am done with wracking my brain for what inevitably are dumb gift ideas for people nearly 60 years younger than I.
I enjoyed choosing books for a while, partly because I loved studying and passing on the illustrations. Of course, my young friends are growing, too, and I’m afraid my book selections might have gotten a little ho-hum.
I still study the New York Times best-children’s-books-of-the-year list. I have fond memories of the year I selected “city dog, country frog,” giving it a thorough going-over before sending it on to the kids. And I’m still thinking of buying a copy for myself.
But does anyone read “Black Beauty” or Homer Price anymore? Nephew Will was deep into Harry Potter the last time he was here. I think niece Nancy may already reading in French. I’m sure nephew Tom has long outgrown my recollections of his toy-train interests.
Such are the dilemmas of holiday shopping for me. I think first of slingshots and knives and oh-so-practical winter wear because they are gifts that stand out in my own memories of Christmases past.
I remember my parents’ big outlay years in the mid-1950s: two bicycles and a tricycle for three single-digit brothers; our first television, awaiting us early one Christmas morning with a snowy Dave Garroway on the black-and-white screen.
I remember the seeming largesse of an Erector Set and Lincoln Logs.
I remember the sad practicality of the red flannel-lined jean jacket with sleeves four inches too long for growing room: I looked like a fool three winters in a row.
But somehow I always think first of the possibly mischievous grandfather-gifts of dandy pocket knives and those frighteningly sturdy Wham-O slingshots with BB ammunition.
It is true that I remember my life as a new kid in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1956 as one long rock fight. I do not know if my grandfather provided the Wham-O as an item of self-defense. But I loved the thing, and still can remember the feel of its thick oak stock, although I thank God that I never aimed it anything on two or four legs, at least successfully.
I know my 11-year-old nephew, Will, took his first deer with a rifle and his dad, Matt, just a couple of months ago. And, since they are a respectful hunting and food-growing family, I am proud that he accomplished this at such a young age.
But, when it comes to my Christmas list, I’m second-guessing my tendencies toward corny books, dangerous implements and dorky outerwear.