Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Christmas Secrets Unveiled

My brother is eight years old now, and I don't think he believes in Santa anymore. He tells me he knows where Mom and Dad are hiding some of our presents. He's a spoilsport, and I tell him I don't want to know, I want to be surprised. Carl taunts me by constantly telling me he knows what I'm getting, and I try not to listen to him.
My brother is driving me crazy. I know he knows something and it must be pretty good, 'cause the smirk on his face is a pretty evil one.
Alright, I give in, I can't take it anymore. "Show me," I tell him.
I can't believe it but the presents he's found are in the new extra room across from ours. They're not even wrapped yet. They're hidden in plain view. My parents are clever, I think, but not clever enough for an eight year old snoop like Carl.
There's a small group of boxes that are un-marked, and Carl tells me to look inside one of them.
As I pull open the cardboard flap I notice the feint smell of smoke. These boxes smell like they've been in a fire. Inside I see the unmistakable signs of Marx toy soldiers! The little bags that contain the men and accessories are in there! One of the bags reads Confederates, so I know now that I'm actually getting the Marx Civil War play set this year! I tear myself away from the boxes. So the toy store at the Mart was able to save the toys but not the box it came in. I'm not going to complain. My Civil War set is going to smell like it just came out of a battle.
Now I can't stop thinking about Christmas morning and how I'm gonna have to act surprised. I have to resist the urge to go back into the spare room and peek some more.
I'm thinking.
"Did we put the boxes back just like they were?"
"Will Mom and Dad notice that some of the flaps have been opened?"
One last check and it looks like we put everything back like it was.
A few days later I go back in to look again, and the boxes are gone.
Has Mom found out we were looking? Where did she take them?
Did my wise-guy brother get caught in there?
Nothing is said that night at dinner, so it's a mystery to me.
Carl swears he knows nothing. He's not smirking when he tells me so I guess I believe him.
It's better off not knowing, I think.
It' better off being surprised.
My brother has other ideas.
He likes to torture me, I swear.

Monday, March 9, 2009

November to December 1963

Thanksgiving doesn't seem as joyful this year. It's only been a week since President Kennedy was killed, and the sorrow continues. I don't feel as sad as some. I'm only eleven years old; I'm shocked that this could happen, but life goes on for me. The evening news programs won't let us forget anyway. Every night they bring up something to talk about the assassination. Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. Cubans and the CIA. Some people are starting to say that President Kennedy was killed by our own government because he was going to pull out of Vietnam. They also claim that it may have been Castro trying to get even for the Bay of Pigs invasion and for trying to assassinate him. On and on, night after night we hear more and more rumors. We see pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald holding his rifle and the stories of him living in Russia and his service in the Marines.
Jack Ruby is a mystery to everyone. No one can figure out why he killed Oswald. The rumors continue to spread, and Jack Ruby is accused of killing Oswald to help cover up a conspiracy.
Lyndon Johnson is now our president. He's a scary-looking guy with that Texas accent. He wears those silly-looking small cowboy hats like the one the Dallas police were wearing. I'm not sure I'm going to like Lyndon Johnson. He looks and sounds kinda sneaky. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe he'll be a good president. At least he's not that creepy Richard Nixon who used to be Vice-President.
It's time to think of Christmas. There are so many cool toys to ask for. Of course I'm still hoping to get the Marx Civil War play set this year. Soon I'll be twelve years old and my parents might think I'll be too old for toy soldiers anymore. Remco has a motorized nuclear submarine and that really catches my interest. I think I'll ask for that as well, and also the new Milton Bradley World War I airplane game called Dogfight.
I've seen all of these toys on the commercials on TV. I've also gotten to see them at the Atlantic Thrift Center just down the road over in Deptford. The Atlantic Thrift Center is a big rambling building filled with booths. It's like the Berlin Farmer's Market, but a little less like a flea market. A lot of people just call it "The Mart". A big night out on the weekend is going shopping at "The Mart".
The toy store there has the Marx Civil War set, and I stare at it every time we go shopping there. I'm hoping this is the year my dream comes true.
A few weeks before Christmas there's a big fire at The Mart. It doesn't burn down, but there's a lot of damage to the building. The stores that are remaining have big sales at really reduced prices, so my chances of getting the Civil War set are getting better, unless they were all burned up in the fire.
I don't know how my parents are going to keep our presents a secret this year. Carl and I have a bedroom upstairs. Upstairs used to be the attic, but now it's been converted into our bedroom, an extra room and a big closet at the top of the stairs. I thought we were going to get our own bathroom, but Mom wanted a big closet, so it's up and down the stairs for Carl and me.
We got some storage areas inside the walls of the upstairs. They run the entire length of the house, and for Carl and me they become mine shafts and escape routes out of prisoner of war camps. Mom calls them coobie holes.
One whole wall is a peg board, and we can put hooks into it and hang things up. We take all of our cap pistols and air guns and our training rifles and put them up on the wall. Later on we'll be allowed to display the German officer's sword that Dad brought home from the war.
From our bedroom window we can watch Gateway Regional High School going up in Mr. Rizzuto's old field. I miss all of the trees and I can't get used to the chain link fence at the end of our yard.
When summer comes we'll be getting an air-conditioner because it will get too hot on the second floor. We've also got our own TV, so when school is out I can stay up all night watching old movies.
Our sister Cheryl is getting our old room. Our cowboy wallpaper will be covered up, and what was once the den of two little boys and a dog and bunk beds will give way to dolls and tea parties and all things female.
Yeah, Christmas is coming and I won't lie in bed listening to my parents climb the attic stairs from my perch in the top bunk anymore.
Just where will they hide everything anyway?