Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Christmas presents ever

JagPedalCar

So I went and posted something yesterday about how much I hate those plastic, see-through candy canes full of M&M’s.

People used to give me those things in spite of the fact that I’ve always resented them.

Well, that all seemed a bit whiny to be posted this close to Christmas. Hey, Christmas is supposed to be fun and light, right? I can take up my crusade against M&M’s and the fascists who fling them at us another day.

During this time of year, however, we ought to be thinking of something a bit more positive. To that end, I’m going to mention some of the best Christmas presents I’ve received through the years.

First up is a plastic, pedal car Jaguar I got when I was five-years-old (it was much like the one pictured above, only red). I absolutely loved that thing and pedaled it all through my neighborhood when I was but a lad. Sadly, I outgrew it, got a Schwinn Stingray bicycle and haven’t seen my beloved plastic Jaguar in over 30 years.

That was the Christmas of 1975. The following year, I got another  treasured gift – a Wolverine Race-o-Rama pinball machine. In theRaceORama pinball mid 1970s, what was cooler than owning your very own, standup pinball machine?

There wasn’t a whole lot that was cooler than that, folks. I played that thing until I flat wore it out. It took a few years to tear up the pinball machine, but I managed it – playing with a fairly complicated toy on an almost daily basis will wear one out, seemingly. Truth be told, I wish I still had one of those things around the house.

About the only thing cooler than a pinball machine in the 1970s was,  of course, an Atari VCS (later Atari2600wood4dubbed the Atari 2600). My parents absolutely hated the idea of having one of those around the house. They were worried it might tear up the television or turn me into a video game-playing zombie.

Oh, I begged my parents for one of those starting in about 1978 when a friend of mine got one for Christmas – it was the Sears version of the 2600 and, as such, came packaged with Target Fun (the Sears-branded version of Atari’s Air-Sea Battle). The notion that you could buy new cartridges and play different games on the thing was intriguing, particularly since the only real video games available for homes prior to the Atari were various versions of Pong – you got one, hardwired system and a bunch of black and white variations of a very simple game.

All of my begging fell on deaf ears, sadly. Well, it fell on deaf ears until the Christmas of 1980 when I finally got an Atari. I was the happiest kid in town and wasted countless hours playing Asteroids, Space Invaders, Activision’s Tennis and a slew of other games.

It may have been a good thing that I had to wait a bit for the Atari. My original system died years ago, but I’ve got two working ones at my house and about 200 cartridges to go with them. By the way, head on over to Atari Age sometime – people are still making and releasing Atari games and will probably be doing so for some time. Long live Atari, huh?coco1

By 1981, computers were all the rage and I wanted one. My parents  got me a TRS-80 Color Computer (CoCo) as they had read that the Microsoft BASIC in those things was the programming language of choice. They were right and I spent hours making up programs for that TRS-80 or copying them out of magazines and books catering to Color Computer fans.

The system was more than a bit primitive – you got an eight-bit, Motorola 6809E CPU that ran at about 1 MHz (that speed could be doubled with a simple command line or programming instruction, however). Most owners hooked them up to their television sets and stored programs on a convention cassette tape (yeah, reading programs was as fun as it sounds).

Regardless, I had a lot of fun learning to program on that thing and owned a lot of games that were loaded in to the computer’s cartridge slot (the famed ROM port that made the CoCo very expandable. The computer came with 16 kilobytes of RAM but I ordered a set of 64 kilobyte chips and soldered them in the system. Two years later, the CoCo went in the closet because I had a more sophisticated machine.

ibm_pcYes, for the Christmas of 1983 I received an IBM-PC. Believe it or not,  that system cost my parents $4,200. What did you get for that price? One 360 kilobyte, 5.25” floppy drive; PC-DOS 1.1, with Microsoft’s advanced BASIC,  EasyWriter (the word processor); an Epson 9-pin, dot matrix printer; 128 kilobytes of RAM; a color monitor; a color graphics adapter; and a big, clicky keyboard.

The IBM-PC was the big deal back then and Big Blue really stuck it to consumers. A box of 10 floppy discs cost $100 at the time (how insane in that?) and anything with an IBM label on it cost and arm and a leg. It seems some people thought the PC represented the wave of the future – it turns out they were right.

I used that system all the way through high school and left it with my  parents when I went to college. TheMaleMachineWhy? Mom used the computer for her office and – understandably – wanted to keep it. So I turned traitor and got an Apple //e in 1987. The funny thing there is that my parents gave me a choice – I could either get a 1981 Pontiac Firebird I had my eyes on (I dubbed the vehicle the “Male Machine” because it was more than a bit over the top and I thought that was cool) or take their 1981 Cutlass Brougham and an Apple //e. I went for the Oldsmobile and the computer. I still regret that a bit, even though the Apple served me well in college.

Oh, there have been some other great gifts through the years – a set of golf clubs from my parents when I was in college, a quilt my grandmother made when I was in law school and a good number of other dandy presents. I still get great gifts but they meant considerably more to me when I was a kid.

Why? When you’re a kid, you can’t just run out and buy whatever you want – you have to ask you parents for things and hope they pick them up for you. When you’re an adult making a decent living, you can pretty well spoil yourself by picking up items you want when you want them.

Hopefully, some of the gifts I’m giving my kids these days will be as fondly remembered as the ones I received for Christmas all those years ago.

13 comments:

avagdro said...

Thanks for sharing.Wish you all a joyful Merry Xmas n New Year ahead.

LoL:)
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The Natural State Hawg said...

Avagdro -- Merry Christmas to you, too, and thanks for dropping by.

Don said...

Sadly, my favorite gifts were either destroyed in a house fire or were destroyed by me. Either way they no longer exist.

Femmepower said...

Ugh, I remember the Atari age! While other more-fortunate kids went gaga over Atari, I was limited to improvised toys and hand-me-downs.But despite the lack of "real" toys,my childhood was still a blast.I was more into running and biking and street games, teehee!

The Natural State Hawg said...

Don -- Believe it or not, I took pretty good care of my stuff. Most of it has vanished due to old age -- I've still got my old Schwinn Mag Scrambler, all of my Atari games, my Mattel Electronic Hockey handheld game, etc.

Femmepower -- You may have been better off, really. I spent a lot of time terrorizing the neighborhood on my bicycle, too.

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