It happened every Christmas.
When I asked for an Annie Oakley cowgirl outfit, I got a Tiny Tears doll. When I wanted a Davy Crockett coonskin cap, I got slipper socks.
Call me ungrateful, call me a spoiled wretch, but it's time somebody said it:
I never got what I really wanted for Christmas.
That sense of great expectations dashed -- destiny's disappointment -- can haunt you forever.
"I remember I wanted a bracelet," said one woman friend. "That's all I wanted. I was convinced I was getting it. On Christmas morning I stood there in the living room after all the packages were opened. I didn't get the bracelet. I couldn't believe it. I was terribly upset, but I didn't want my parents to know so I went into my room, got back into bed and cried."
Now the mother of four boys, she goes "overboard" every Christmas to get her children exactly what they want. Even if it means eating Raviolios for the month of January.
"I wanted a tool box," said one man. "I guess I was about 7 or 8 at the time. Christmas morning, I opened the package, and it was a set of play tools. I was mortified. It meant they didn't take me seriously, or something. But I've never forgotten that feeling. Toy tools '"
This is the secret despair of childhood: the eyes stinging with tears, the lump in the throat. You asked for it, hoped for it, plotted and pleaded for it. You even wrote it down two or three times. A Flexible Flyer. A Lionel train that really smokes.A Hopalong Cassidy outfit with two six-shooters .
How could they get it wrong? How could they give you an Erector set when you asked for a microscope? There was one unwritten rule: You never cried in front of your parents. The hurt and humiliation was meant to be endured Camille-like.
My parents, bless their credit cards, tried to indulge my every whim. But the ones that got away still haunt me, the ghosts of Christmas presents past . . .
Scene: middle class household in a suburb of Philadelphia, 1955.
"What did you tell Santa you wanted for Christmas?"
"A pink typewriter."
"A pink what?"
"But sweetie, you're too young for a typewriter. How about a Betsy Wetsy?"
Christmas morning, I ran down to the living room and ripped open the packages. There was the incontinent doll and a play pink oven.
"But I asked for a pink typewriter ."
Several weeks later, the pink oven was left in the driveway where my father ran over it. The doll wound up with "Cherries in the Snow" lipstick smeared on its face. Sigmund Freud might say this was the root of my life-long conflict between career and family.
The next year, I asked for a Shetland pony.
"But where would we keep it?"
"In the basement."
Who's to say my life would have turned out differently if I had gotten what I wanted: a dollhouse with running water, an indoor-outdoor skating rink, and airplane like "The Songbird," a color-TV set with remote control, a Princess phone (preferably pink), a dog who looked like Old Yeller or Yukon King, a horse like Fury, $500 in small bills.
Scene: Same suburb outside of Philadelphia, 1958 .
"Did you tell Santa what you wanted for Christmas?"
"Yes. A baby brother."
"A what ?"
"You know, a baby brother. I want to name it Sky King."
"But sweetie, maybe Santa doesn't have any baby brothers."
"But the Sussmans got one last year it's real cute."
Christmas morning came and went: no baby brother. Instead, I got a Mickey Mouse wind-up guitar and Mouseketeer ears.
By that time, I knew there was no Santa Claus. I was even beginning to doubt the omnipotence of my parents. Not wanting to rush to conclusions, however, I gave them one more chance.
Scene: Same place, same time, 1959
"What do you want for Christmas this year? Wait, let me sit down."
"Okay, I know I've asked for some weird things before, but this time there is one thing I would reaaly like."
"Let me guess. A merry-go-round with real horses?"
"Okay, what is it."
"The Oscar Mayer weiner truck."
"The what ?"
"You know, the one we saw the other day on Princeton road, that big truck that looked like a hot dog."
"Now really . . ."
"But Maah-om , it's really neat and you could take us to school in it."
I didn't get the Oscar Mayer weiner truck. I got a sled instead. The time I asked for a telescope, I got a Hula-Hoop. The year I wanted a GTO with four on the floor, I got a mohair sweater.
Every Christmas I asked for a dog.
"But who will take care of it?"
"Who will feed it?"
"Who will clean up when he poops on the rug?"
So I got stuffed animals, the kind with the zippered pouch in the stomach to store your pajamas in.
There were Barbie dolls, Brownie cameras, Ben Casey shirts and bottles of Shalimar. There were John Nagy paint-by-number sets, scarab bracelets, Everly Brothers 45s, terrycloth bathrobes, manicure kits and ice skates. Later on, there were Joan Baez records, Beatles records and Herman's Hermits records, Nehru jackets, go-go boots, fishnet stockings and musk oil.
Not to mention Deerfoam slippers, bubble-bath crystals, Kodak Instamatics and a crisp Ben Franklin "to buy something I wanted."
The pony would have kicked Stevie Shiekman in the shins, and his parents would have sued mine for the money it cost to send me to private school which means I would have gone to public school and learned very early that the world was co-ed.
The baby brother would have been cute at first, but then he would have gotten into drugs and joined a punk rock group, and my father would have sent him to military school where he would have been expelled for cheating. Then he would have landed on my living room floor for six months eating tofu salads and trying to find himself.
And the Oscar Mayer weiner truck? I would have driven it up and down the driveway for a few days before it careened out of control, crashing through the living room wall and killing both my parents which would have left me an orphan.
Which reminds me, I once asked for an Orphan Annie doll and . . .