Joyous Gifts

adventure-legosAs I bring the family gift shopping to a close this season I’m finding presents on my mind. My children are teenagers now and just aren’t as easily excited by gifts as they used to be, and I suppose the same thing is true of me. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so thrilled by a gift that I grinned from ear to ear and ran off to enjoy it for hours at a time.

(I mean gifts in the traditional sense, not “oh, the love of my child” or “the gift of life” or some permutation thereof.)

I wonder if that change in joy level is because as we age we’re less surprised even by the things we like. I mean, even when I received a copy of a rare pulp collection it still wasn’t like discovering that toy I was mad for when I was five actually under the Christmas tree. On the other hand, that pulp still brings a smile to me whenever I pick it up, so it’s not as though the joy has gone. It’s just not as intense.

temple-of-anubisAnyway, I got to thinking about what the most exciting traditional presents I ever received and gave were. In the case of “gave” there’s no contest, but it’s a little bit of a story, so bear with me. Before my son was even born my wife and I were in a department store after Christmas and an awesome Lego adventure set was remaindered for less than half price. It was Indiana Jones-like before Lego actually had the Indiana Jones license, so it had a hot air balloon and an Egyptian temple and mummy and treasure and all that — basically it was the set I would have loved to have had when I was a kid, one of those big ones I dreamed of that my parents couldn’t have afforded. I picked that thing up and kept it in a sack in the basement for YEARS. Finally, when my son was five or six, old enough to play with all those tiny pieces, he received it for Christmas.

martian-legosWell, he did love it, as you’d probably expect, but THAT wasn’t the present that most thrilled him. Included in the box was a catalog of other Lego sets, and there was this big Mars explorer set that just enthralled him. He wanted that thing — the only problem, of course, was that the catalog was six or seven years old at that point and the set out of print. He said that was the gift he most wanted, though. I warned him it might be very hard to get because the company had stopped making it, but that I’d try. He said he understood. Well, I bought it on Ebay for a reasonable price, unopened. When he unwrapped that gift on his birthday he stared at the sealed box for a few seconds then ran across the room and gave me a big hug. THAT was the best. It was a thanks hug and a “Dad came through” hug and it was full of gratitude and love.

As for the gift I received that brought me the most joy, I’d probably have to go back to my childhood. Boy, was I excited by the Fisher-Price castle and remember staring at it in the Sears catalog for weeks, hoping I could play with it. When I did, I had tons of fun. And there were scads of Legos I played with, and the Star Trek action figures, and, later, Six Million Dollar Man toys. But all of those might be beaten by the PlaySkool rescue center.

playskool-rescueI can’t tell you how young I was — probably 5 or less — but I do know I hadn’t asked for the present. I wasn’t even aware it existed. But boy, did I love that thing. It came with a helicopter and a fire-truck — with a ladder! And it had a ramp down which a rescue car could zoom, an elevator that could be carried BY the helicopter (which had a hook that lowered), and an emergency slide down which the ambulance drivers and doctors could board the rescue car. And it had all sorts of other little sound makers and details. I was so captivated playing with that set that my mom got worried because she hadn’t seen me in hours. When she came to check up on me she found me in my bedroom STILL playing with the same toy hours after we’d opened presents. She chuckled about that years later. She probably knew then that she’d picked out a good one.

Do any of you have good stories about best gifts given and received? (Appropriate for general audience gifts, if you please…)