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A Very 1980s Christmas Story

MGM
MGM

Everyone knows A Christmas Story, or has at least heard of it. If you haven’t, don’t worry. It’ll be playing around the clock on at least 17 different cable channels this Christmas. That story follows a kid growing up in the ’40s who wanted a BB gun for Christmas, who may or may not have shot his eye out. There is still some debate on that point.

Well, this story is kind of like that story, except it’s my story and doesn’t involve any firearms whatsoever. Or deadly icicles, because I grew up in Southeast Texas. The closest we ever got to icicles was when we’d chip away at the back wall of our freezer whenever it had grown into a solid block of ice, thanks to the always humid SETX weather. It was a good time.

But anyway, here’s My Christmas Story. It’s totally unique and takes place in an entirely different decade than A Christmas Story, and I’ve even added “Very” and “1980s” to the title, so whoever owns the copyright can just calm down right now. You got nothin’ on me.

The story is broken up into three parts, just in case you don’t have an ocean of free time to read the whole thing in one sitting. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll question the existential dilemma of man’s inhumanity to man. It’ll be fun.

Trust me.

PART ONE PART TWO PART THREE

 

My Christmas Story
Part One

December 23, 1983

This was the year I got my first computer. I’m saying that up front to spoil the ending because I’m kind of a jerk, and also because I know I’m probably not going to be interesting enough for you to read all the way to the end of this. So really, it’s a kindness. This way, you can pretend you read it if we ever bump into each other at a party or something, and have to make that awkward kind of small talk strangers have to make at social functions no one really wants to go to in the first place.

You’ll say something like, “Oh, I loved that story about your first computer!”

“Why thank you,” I’ll reply, both of us knowing our entire conversation is a lie.

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Jupiterimages

I won’t hold it against you, though. After all, it’s almost Christmas Eve, so there’s precious little time to get your last minute shopping in. Just be careful when you hit the roads, or some dimwitted old man might blow through a red light and crash into your car, which you’ll then have to explain to your mom when the cops call her to come pick you up after she told to you be extra careful because she had a bad feeling when you left. But more on that tomorrow…

Today, let’s talk about how there was no love in my house back in 1983.

First, some backstory. We had a lot of weird holiday traditions growing up, several of which involved cookies. Whenever we’d make the dough or roll it out to start cutting out cookies with our increasingly bizarre cutters, we’d always put some flour on our noses. I have no idea why we did this, although my mom said it had something to do with how bakers always had flour on their noses.

I’ve seen bakers as an adult, though. I’ve observed them both out in public and whilst plying their trade, and at no time have any of them had flour on their noses. I suspect my mom’s explanation was a myth designed to maximize kid cuteness for Christmas photos.

“Oh, would you look at these kids,” she’d say, as she passed the photos around at book club or whatever it was that moms got up to during the day when their kids were at school back in the ’80s. “Aren’t they just rascals!”

Then all the other moms would laugh and there’d probably be a touching story about how much of a mess we made, but it was all so adorable that she couldn’t get mad and it’d all make for great memories one day. That’s how I imagine it, anyway. It probably never happened that way, because most of the time our photos never made it out of those little pouches that used to exist that photo places (which also used to exist) used to stuff them into after they’d been developed. We had boxes of those things.

35mm roll of film isolated
Slobodan Djajic

After we made all the cookies, it was time to decorate some of them. Specifically, we’d ice the sugar cookies. Or maybe we frosted them. I don’t know; I’ve never been entirely clear on the subtle culinary differences between icing and frosting. At any rate, my dad would mix up some powdered sugar with some sweetened condensed milk, then add a little food coloring and a touch of almond extract, and we had cookie paint.

Which we applied with actual paint brushes. And then eventually very large spoons, because at some point the thrill would be gone and everyone just wanted it to be over. But at the start, it was amazing.

We’d use little hobby paint brushes to get fine details on each cookie, and the icing/frosting/whatever was pretty delicious. It probably also helped keep the cookies from drying out, although they usually didn’t have enough time for that to happen before I’d eat them all off the cookie tree.

Oh, yeah. We also had a cookie tree.

In case you’re wondering what that is – and, let’s be honest, who isn’t? – it was, quite literally, a Christmas tree with cookies on it. The tree itself was this weird artificial number that had all-white fake needles, which made it not look like any real tree I’d ever seen before in my life. It didn’t really look like the manufacturer was going for a regular tree that had been covered in snow or anything, either. It was just a white tree, like maybe what they had over in Gondor.*

*This is a Tolkien reference only nerds like me will understand, but here’s a link you can click to fill you in, just in case you want to have something more to talk about whenever we meet at that party I mentioned.

Once the tree was up and the cookies were all baked and decorated in cookie paint, my mom would individually wrap them in plastic wrap she’d then tie together with a bit of straight ribbon before performing some kind of occult magic on it with a pair of scissors that would turn it all curly and frilly looking. Then, we’d jam a hooker* into each one, and hang them on the tree.

*I feel like I should explain that, in this context, the term “hooker” refers to the hook-shaped Christmas ornament hangers everyone is familiar with. But we called them hookers in our family, because we were a bunch of weirdos with absolutely no concept of what was and was not commonly accepted by society. See also: “Rubbers” – my grandfather’s word for rain boots.

The cookie tree lived in the dining room, next to the dinner table, which made for a convenient dessert location after I finished eating all my stupid green beans that weren’t even fried and didn’t have any butter or bacon in them at all. It was a hard life.

Throughout the holiday season, we’d snatch cookies off that tree one by one, until it was nearly empty by New Year’s Day. It was a fun tradition, but it involves a lot of work and more self-control to not just eat all the cookies than I have as an adult, so it’s one I haven’t replicated with my own kid. We still bake all the cookies, cut them out, and apply the cookie paint, but we stop short of hanging them on a second Christmas tree.

Kristian Bland
Kristian Bland

Yeah, the cookie tree wasn’t our only Christmas tree. Over in the living room, we always had an actual, real tree we’d go chop down at a local tree farm every year. It was always a traditional pine tree, which meant vacuuming up pine needles every day was also a traditional tradition in our traditional household that valued tradition. It’s where all the presents would go, and it’s where all of our weird family ornaments would hang.

We had lots of odd ornaments. There was a plastic peanut that was already old when I first saw it as a kid that had ancient, antediluvian candy from before The Great Flood inside it. That is still has inside it, because I inherited that particular ornament from my mom before she passed away, and which is currently hanging on my own Christmas tree right now. We also had creepy elves like from Elf on the Shelf which we’d hang up in our tree, which I now refer to as Murder Elves, on account of how they look distinctly homicidal whenever the twinkle lights sparkle off their dead, unholy eyes.

However, one specific ornament is relevant to this story. It was one of two that my mom brought home from a store called Gemco that used to exist but doesn’t anymore. They each had a little figure inside a blown-glass globe. Mine had a little toy soldier inside, and my sister’s had something I can’t remember because her ornament isn’t important to this story, and I never really cared about it anyway.

But my ornament? My ornament is the one that removed all love from our house a couple of days before Christmas.

It all happened innocently enough. My mom picked up the ornaments at the store, then brought them home and handed one to my sister and one to me. We told her we liked them, then jammed some hookers into them and went to hang them on the tree.

Which is when it all went wrong.

My sister and I started giggling about something I can’t remember, and then when I went to hang my ornament on the tree, I dropped it. It shattered. My mom lost her mind.

It’s important to remember here that we were already late in the Christmas season, and I was an obnoxious kid at normal times of the year. I turned it up to eleven over the holidays, though. Running on sugar and caffeine and the promise of Christmas morning, I was like an angry lab monkey jibbering in my cage at an uncaring world just outside my reach. I don’t know how my mom endured it.

Well, how she usually endured it, anyway. I pushed her past the breaking point this year.

I guess she thought we were making fun of her ornaments while we were giggling or something, and became convinced that we weren’t taking things seriously. Those ornaments had cost money, after all, which was money we did not have, as had been previously established from the start of the holiday season by my parents repeatedly telling us that we were broke, and to not expect much in the way of presents this year. Just like they did pretty much every year.

If all my sister and I did was make fun of them, then we obviously didn’t appreciate the love that went into my mom’s decision to buy them for us, which naturally meant that we didn’t love her at all anymore, and basically everything was horrible and there was no love in our house.

I tried to explain things to her, but I couldn’t stop giggling. Hey, I was a kid. Sometimes, you just start laughing for no reason and can’t stop. It happens.

My mom was having none of it, though. I must’ve come across like the maniacal Joker from Batman, taunting her with my incessant laughter until she just couldn’t take it anymore.

She flew into a rage, then stormed off into the dining room where the cookie tree lived.

And then she murdered it.

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Stockphoto4u

She went absolutely off the rails on that poor tree, yanking each branch out and tossing them across the room like some kind of incensed caveman after somebody ate the last wooly mammoth drumstick.

“There’s no love in this house!” she shouted, between the tears that were streaming down her face.

It was kind of awful.

It cured me of my giggle fit, though. I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but I knew enough to know that it was serious business. I tried to console her by telling her I was sorry and explaining that I wasn’t making fun of her ornament, but she wasn’t having it. She just kept ripping limbs off the tree and sobbing, which made me start crying, too. Then, my sister started crying and the dogs started howling, and the annoying Finch birds we had hanging up in a cage near the cookie tree started screeching their beaks off, and it was pretty much the worst experience of my childhood life.

She eventually sent us to our rooms, where I just curled up in my bed, crying into my pillow over what an awful son I must be. My sister might’ve been doing the same thing in her room, or she could have just been doodling in her diary about a boy or something for all I knew, because she was a few years older than me and into that sort of thing. I don’t know. It was foreign territory to my eight-year-old brain, so I never bothered asking for fear I might actually get an answer and then it’d get weird.

After my dad got home and talked to my mom, he came and got us from our rooms. We went back into the kitchen and revived the cookie tree, which was only mostly dead at that point. We jammed the limbs back into it, then put all the cookies back on, even though most of them were cracked and broken inside their tiny, plastic-wrapped prisons.

They still tasted the same, though.

Kristian Bland
Kristian Bland

Everyone apologized, hugged, and made up. Then, my dad gathered up all the little bits of exploded glass from my ornament and super-glued them all back together, which must’ve taken him a lot more time than I wanted to think about. But he did it, and the ornament was whole again, if a little broken.

We kept it over the years, and continued hanging it on each and every Christmas tree we had. And, each and every year, we’d tell the story of how that ornament came to be, and we’d laugh.

It wasn’t until much later that I was able to see that little toy soldier ornament for the metaphor that it was. Broken but made whole again, and brought out every year to reminisce over. To remember the awful, and to celebrate the love that brought it back together again.

That ornament was Family.

Every family I know of is a fractured whole, broken in places where lives and relationships have been strained over the years, but ultimately brought back together again and held whole by love and memory and forgiveness.

It’s weird, but one of my favorite Christmas memories from my childhood was the year there was no love in my house. Because there always was, and always will be. It’s just that, sometimes, you need to be a little broken to see it.

 


 

Part Two

Christmas Eve, 1983

My dad and I always went out shopping on Christmas Eve. I’m not sure how it started, but it quickly became an annual tradition with us. It’s when he’d buy all of his gifts for my mom, which usually included a bottle of Shalimar perfume that still smells like her to this day, even though she’s not around to wear it anymore.

We’d also hit random stores to pick up those odd little gifts that hadn’t occurred to anyone to ask for. To my kid brain, this meant cheap bits of junk that I thought were amazing, but my parents probably hated. I think a coconut monkey was purchased, at some point. Or maybe that was for their anniversary. I don’t know; things get hazy when coconuts and monkeys are involved.

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SivelstreSelva

The point is, we’d always go out on Christmas Eve every year. And, every year, my mom would get a bad feeling about it, then tell us to be extra careful because she just knew something bad would happen to us. Nothing bad ever actually happened, of course.

Until it did.

We were heading out to the mall along back roads where the traffic was less crazy when it all went down. We were just merrily driving along, with my dad behind the wheel and me sitting beside him in the front seat because this was back before there were laws against things like child endangerment and whatnot. There was an intersection coming up, which was fine because the light had just turned green. No problem.

The first few cars went through without incident, but then it was our turn. We pulled into the intersection, then everything went crazy.

An old man in a giant boat of a car apparently didn’t notice the red light he had, or all the stopped cars he passed that were waiting for it to turn green. Instead, he just whipped by them and barreled through the intersection. And into our car.

He hit the passenger side, near where I was sitting, with enough force to spin us completely around. Glass was shattered. Metal was crushed. Tires were screeched.

And all I could think of was Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap! We’re gonna have to tell Mom.

I even screamed it. Over and over, as we were spinning around in slow motion and everything was crashing and shattering around me. “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!”

Seriously. This was the only thought on my poor little brain. I wasn’t at all concerned that we’d just been involved in a fairly serious collision that could have easily resulted in severe injury or anything. I was worried about telling Mom.

Because she was right.

Granted, she was only right in that stopped clock sort of way, since she always had a bad feeling whenever anyone left the house (especially on Christmas Eve), but none of that mattered. She wouldn’t remember all of her failed predictions, because this time, her nightmare vision had come true.

My dad and I emerged more or less unscathed, but the car was totaled. And we had to call my mom. Or, rather, the cops had to call my mom because this was 1983, back when cell phones were still called car phones and only rich people had them. Things did not go well.

She picked us up and drove us home, fussing the whole way. She told us this would happen, but did we listen? Nooooo! We never listen. We just go out and do what we want, then the next thing you know, BAM! WRECK! Just as the ancients foretold!

Palmist
Getty Images

We still ended up going to the mall, though. After we got home, my dad waited for her to calm down a bit and start getting ready for church, then he grabbed me and the car keys and we snuck out before she could stop us. My dad liked to live dangerously.

We managed to grab the perfume and make it back before she was any the wiser, because, again, this was the ’80s, when a woman getting ready to go out involved at least an hour’s worth of liberally applying Aqua Net™ to every last follicle on her head. This was also in Texas, which usually added at least 30 more minutes, on account of the Big Hair Syndrome that plagued women in the Lone Star state during the decade.

When she was finally ready, it was our turn, because of course none of us would start getting dressed until she told us to start getting dressed, which meant it was a mad dash to get our Sunday best on in time to leave the house so we could get to the church somewhat on time. Any more than five minutes late, and we’d get the stink eye from the choir lady. Nobody wanted that.

So I tucked in my red shirt, since I always wear a red shirt on Christmas, combed my bowl cut down, and put on my shiny shoes. I popped out into the living room and declared myself ready to go. Naturally, I wasn’t, because the cowlick in the back of my head was still sticking up. I guess my mom could’ve grabbed whatever Aqua Net™ she might’ve had left and tamed it with chemical adhesives, but she never did. Instead, she’d usually just use mom spit, which was a thing that used to exist, back before people realized how gross it was. But if you grew up back in the day, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It could hold down stubborn hair and clean leftover chocolate off your cheeks. It was magical stuff.

And totally gross. I’m kind of glad it was replaced by baby wipes. (Seriously, if you’re not a parent, you probably don’t know about the wonders of baby wipes. They’ll clean anything off of anything. Literally. Go buy a pack. Thank me later.)

Pampers via Amazon
Pampers via Amazon

With my unruly hair tamed back into its appropriate bowl shape, we headed out the door and managed to make it to church just before the choir lady started glaring at the entrances. The night’s service was pretty much the same as every other Christmas Eve service we ever went to, which tended to be the only night we went to church. And only day, really. Sometimes, we’d go on Easter morning if my mom managed to wake all of us up in time, but we usually just went on Christmas Eve. Yeah, we were those people. I make no apologies for it.

After church, we’d always go over to my grandma’s house for Christmas Eve at her place. We called her Nana, and she was amazing. She made the best chocolate pie you’ll ever taste, always picked me up from middle school after my mom went back to work, and even watched my stupid kid game shows with me in the afternoon. (I’m looking at you, Fun House and Double Dare.) She was great. I miss her.

She had a vintage aluminum Christmas tree I’d always help her put up every year that had these really cool multi-colored lights that would spin around and turn the tree red, then green, then blue and yellow, for some reason. I never did care for the yellow, though. I didn’t consider it a Christmas color, and resented it inviting itself to the party, but the other colors were pretty cool. She always decorated it with red ornaments, and piled packages underneath it that she’d been buying during various sales all year long.

And she’d always spell my name wrong on mine.

I tend to go by Kris rather than Kristian, because people have a hard time figuring out that the K makes the same sound as the Ch in Christian, so they end up pronouncing my name as Kristen or Kirsten, or even Kristina, somehow. Whatever. I’m always a half-second away from involuntary gender reassignment, and I’ve never liked it. So I went by Kris.

Which is what Nana would write on my packages, only she’d inexplicably add an extra S to the end of my name. Every year. But only on Christmas gifts. She’d get it right on my birthday and other times of the year, like Valentine’s Day, when we’d exchange cards and some silly little gifts with each other. But on Christmas, I was always Kriss.

Kristian Bland
Kristian Bland

I think maybe she meant to write Kris’s, because that whole making a word ending in S possessive with just an apostrophe thing wasn’t taught when she was in school. So she’d tack on an apostrophe S, except she’d always forget the apostrophe and I’d just end up being Kriss with a double S for the holidays.

My gift this year was a red shirt, which I remember on account of how my gift every year was a red shirt. Nana loved the color, and always had a red sweater she’d wear every Christmas. I guess she just wanted us to match. I thanked her for it, gave her a hug, then went off and played with what was apparently an unused natural gas valve in the spare bedroom that fascinated me. I didn’t know it was an unused natural gas valve, of course. I thought it was just a cool lever that made a kind of swooshy sound when you turned it, and then everything smelled like farts for a minute.*

*I should note here that I’ve never actually told anyone about my grandmother’s amazing fart lever until now. I certainly didn’t tell anyone when I was still a kid, out of fear that they might take my dangerous, potentially lethally explosive toy away from me. I didn’t know it was dangerous, though. I was just a kid with a magical fart lever. You’d keep it a secret, too.

After finishing up dinner and the gift exchange at her house, we headed back home and started getting ready to go to bed. My dad read The Night Before Christmas to us like he always did every Christmas Eve, then we took our stockings down and carried them off to our rooms. And then we brought them back in and hung them up again, because we only ever took them down for pictures of us taking them down. I do not know why.

Once the stocking pictures were done, we made up some cookies and milk to leave out for the big guy, which is when I wrote him my traditional thank you note of the year. I did this every year, writing him some sort of little note that I’d leave by his plate, thanking him in advance for all the presents I was certain he’d bring me. Looking back, I guess I was pretty smug about the whole thing, but Santa had never failed to come through my entire life. I had no reason to suspect this year would be any different, so I left him a thank you note and went off to bed, confident that Christmas Magic would happen overnight, and all the presents I knew my parents couldn’t afford (like a computer) would be waiting for me under the tree in the morning.

After that, I went and crawled in my bed, where I remained wide awake for what seemed like hours, because it was impossible for me to get to sleep on Christmas Eve. It got even worse when I heard Santa’s sleigh bells jingling outside, because now I had to pretend to be asleep or he might pass me by.

It was a very stressful time.

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Juriah Mosin

I managed to fall asleep eventually, though. For like, five minutes, because the sun was almost up by the time I finally lost consciousness, and sunrise was the longest I was willing to wait before waking up everyone else in the house so I could burst into the living room and start ripping through gift wrap like a spastic demon baby.

Which is probably why Santa always left my stocking either at the foot of my bed, or just outside my bedroom door. It was a delaying tactic, and his present to the rest of the family. Going through my stocking to find out what presents and candy were in it kept me busy for a little while, and gave everyone else in the house a precious few more minutes of sleep.

Santa’s a pretty smart guy.

Eventually, I made it through my entire stocking, stopping only to unwrap presents and munch on some candy. When one of the presents was exceptionally cool, like a couple of new Star Wars action figures I’d been wanting, I stopped to play with them for a little bit before moving on to the next thing. Which, in this case, was the last thing. And also the best thing.

I hadn’t asked anyone for it, not my parents, not my sister, not even Santa – but here it was, all the same. It was, of course, another Star Wars action figure, but this one was special. It was the Emperor, which might not seem like a big deal today, but this one was a special figure you could only get by sending in proofs of purchase of other action figures and then waiting an unbearable 4 to 6 weeks for delivery, which I never actually did. None of my old packages had their proofs of purchases cut out, either. Somehow, the Emperor (he didn’t have a last name yet) just appeared in my stocking. I guess Santa had an in with Kenner toys and Lucasfilm or something, because there he was, in all his evil glory.

"Star Wars: In Concert" At The Orleans Arena In Las Vegas
Getty Images

I don’t remember any other stocking presents I ever got, not even when they were other Star Wars figures (I was nuts for the stuff; George Lucas himself even wrote me a letter after I started college, but that’s a story for another time), but I’ll never be able to forget this one. It just was not possible that the Emperor could ever show up in my stocking. I hadn’t even heard about the mail-in offer until a week or two before Christmas, never told my parents about it, and since I’d already sent my list to Santa, I didn’t ask him for it, either. But I wanted it. Bad. Secretly, I yearned for the thing.

And then, there it was. Plain as day. In my hands.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that stay with you. Sure, I remember the big presents, but it’s the little miracles that stay stuck firmly in my memory all these decades later. There were others, over the years, but something about getting this impossible action figure has never left me. It was magical.

Christmas Magic.

Netflix
Netflix

Once I was done ripping open the package and making the Emperor shoot pretend lightning bolts out of his fingers at poor Luke Skywalker, I finally got over my excitement and realized it was still Christmas morning, and there were even more presents waiting for me in the living room. Which is when I’d go bouncing down the hall, banging on the walls and knocking on everyone’s door.

“Wake up!” I shouted, while making as much noise as possible. “It’s Christmas!”

 


 

Part Three

Christmas Morning, 1983

As I alluded to earlier, in the months and weeks leading up to every Christmas morning of my childhood, my parents, being a strange and conniving pair of offspring generators, would begin the annual tradition of convincing me and my sister that we lived in a Dickensian tragedy of abject poverty. We were told to expect no presents each year, on account of how we were likely to be shipped off to a workhouse at any given moment.

Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press

While the presents under the tree from my parents were usually pretty thin on account of the aforementioned lack of money, Santa always came through. I don’t know how he did it, or why (I was a pretty obnoxious kid, so I’m not sure how my name ever left the Naughty list), but every Christmas morning, there would be a bunch of new presents under the tree, all from good St. Nick. There were always a lot of smaller presents, things I asked for and some things I didn’t even know I wanted, and there was usually one big present, which was always the one thing I never expected to get, but somehow always did.

One year, it was a bicycle: a Team Murray dirt bike, with a royal blue paint job, garish yellow pads, and a black plastic torture-seat that hurt in all the wrong places. Another year, it was my first Nintendo, which also happened to be the first Nintendo because this was the ’80s and the NES had just come out. But this was the year I got my very first computer, which was also one of the very first computers because, again, this was the ’80s and no one had come up with smartphones and iPads yet.

My dad was working in the repair department of an electronics store at the time, which meant he was always bringing home interesting gizmos. Once, when I had chicken pox and had to stay home from school for a week, he checked an Atari 2600 out from the store and brought it home for me to play instead of going to class and doing homework like the suckers who didn’t have the foresight to come down with an infectious disease. He never brought home a computer though, because this was the early ’80s, and nobody considered computers to be consumer electronics yet, so the store didn’t have any. Computers were meant for big business and dorky kids, while electronics stores were the exclusive domains of stereos, televisions, and the almighty VCR.

Still, my dad having access to so many electronic gizmos had its downsides, like when my mother began Christmas morning in 1983 by saying, “Wait in the hall with your sister until Dad finishes setting up the video camera.” His unlimited access to gadgetry was beginning to take its toll.

This was the early ’80s, back before you could just whip out your iPhone to record a video. Instead, there was a lengthy setup period involving plugging a giant, over-the-shoulder camera into an actual VCR you had strapped under one arm while the other began the bizarre finger waggling necessary to synch the camera to the recorder and set the white balance and fiddle with all the other arcane mysteries of 1980s video technology. Of course, this was after you’d rigged up enough lights to trigger a full-scale DEA assault today, just so you could kinda-sorta make out the various quivering shapes as human when you played the tape back later.

Abandoned pile of old useless mini DV
ThinkStock

The downside to all of this video prep work to an eight-year-old waiting to see what Santa Claus brought him is that I was stuck in the hallway for what seemed like just shy of ten minutes past eternity. The upside, of course, is that the video couldn’t be instantly uploaded to the internet, because Al Gore hadn’t claimed he invented it yet.

“Okay, come in!” my mother shouted in the hesitant tone of someone who doesn’t know if the red light on the camera means it is – or isn’t – working.

A half-second later…

“No, wait! Stay there!” she yelled, panicked. My sister and I could make out the muffled voice of my father trying to convince her that everything was fine. “Are you sure?” we heard her ask, worry and disbelief dripping from her question mark.

“Yes, sugar. The red light means it’s on,” replied my Dad in the slightly increased volume and annoyed tone of someone who’s just realized that conspiratorial whispering just isn’t going to cut it.

“But is it recording?”

“Yes, honey.”

“Are you sure? Because the VCR doesn’t look like it’s recording.”

“Is the red light on?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s recording.”

“Okay. But are you sure?”

My father’s sigh was audible far in the hallway as my sister and I finally decided to just sit down, leaning against the stuccoed wall while we waited. After about five more minutes of persuasion followed by confusion, followed by frustration, followed by reluctant acceptance, we finally got the all clear to come into the living room.

Approximately .0003 seconds later, I lost my dang mind.

Insanity, it should be noted before we go any further, is a legal term rather than a clinical one. It is sometimes used in courtrooms to defend the crazy actions of crazy people, on account of how they can’t be held responsible for all the crazy stuff they’ve done because they’re just so filled with crazy. However, it is primarily used to defend the crazy actions of sane people who, for whatever reason, briefly come completely unhinged and run about doing stupid things. This is called Temporary Insanity, and the point is that it has absolutely no bearing on whether a person is actually crazy or not. It’s just one of those things that happens inexplicably, like Austria’s Falco. Or blue eye shadow.

“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?!” I screamed as I rounded the corner and saw the gorgeous yellowed box of computational glory that would take over my life for the next few years. It was already plugged in and turned on, with a small television set on top of the case as a monitor. Again, I screamed. “A COMPUUUUUUUUUUTERRRRR?!”

Kristian Bland
Kristian Bland

I spent the next few minutes chanting some variation of the words “what” and “computer” while flailing my body around in the most spastic way imaginable, which is saying something if you can imagine me as a skinny little eight-year-old with a bowl cut and freakishly long arms. I was basically one of those things you see outside used car lots that flap around in the wind and gyrate uncontrollably about the low, low prices Crazy Dan is offering.

At some point, I calmed down and stopped embarrassing myself, but the videographic evidence remains to this day. Fortunately, it’s currently trapped between dimensions in the magnetic tape of a VHS cassette, and I have no plans of releasing it into the wilds of the internet any time soon. So don’t ask.

I have no real memory of anything else I got that Christmas, other than that Emperor action figure. When I look back on that morning, all I can really see is the title screen to a game called In Search Of The Most Amazing Thing flashing on the television monitor of my Franklin Ace 1000. The computer was one of the many Apple ][ clones that flooded the market in the days before Apple employed specialized assassination squads to murder anyone even thinking about copying the engineering they’d already copied from someone else, which meant it was pretty much an exact clone of the famous personal computer that launched personal computing.

And I loved it.

I played with it for the rest of the day, and nearly every day afterward for years. My dad and I bonded over shared gaming experiences, I learned how to type and how to write on it, and I eventually made friends with it once modems came along and I could call other people with my computer, and talk to them with my keyboard. But that morning, all I could see was my dreams coming true. Again. And looking back, all I can see today is the same thing. Because, if you can manage to hold onto it, Christmas Magic never leaves you, no matter how old you get.

Which is something the Christmas of 1983 showed me. Somehow, Christmas always came together in my family. There were always fights and struggles and unexpected tragedies, but in the end, everything worked itself out by Christmas morning. Which is what the holidays are all about, really. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Christmas is about family. So is Hanukkah and Kwanza and every winter festival anyone might celebrate anywhere.

Kristian Bland
Kristian Bland

And the thing about family is that it’s messy. It’s arguments and apologies, heartbreaks and acceptance. It’s disappointing someone, then making them burst with pride. It’s hating each other and loving each other, all at the same time. It’s complicated and frustrating, and totally worth every crazy minute.

If you can’t be with your family this year, keep them in your heart. You might not be able to hug them or tell them how much everything they’ve ever done for you means, but they’ll know.

They’ve always known.

Because family always does.

Kristian Bland
Kristian Bland

And a happy new year!

© 2016, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.

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