This is the Life: Gifts that really deliver leave a lasting impact

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The coincidental timing of our annual gift guide and Stuart McLean’s topic on the Vinyl Café this week put me in a reminiscing mood.

In McLean’s story, Dave, then a child, had saved money all year to buy Christmas gifts for his family. As the big day neared, he regularly dropped into a store in his hometown (no online or cross-border shopping back then, especially for residents of Cape Breton). He had the gifts already selected — a 14-foot measuring tape for his dad, oven mitts for his mom, and a brush and mirror set for his little sister. And then he discovered the table hockey game.

Of course, Dave caved in after a great personal struggle and bought himself the game, which he then hid in the attic, not knowing how to reveal its purchase. The only plan he could come up with was to sneak it downstairs on Christmas Eve and leave it under the tree with a card — “To Davy, Love Santa.”

No regular Vinyl Café listener was surprised when the young boy went to check under the tree late on Christmas Eve, only to discover there the same hockey game as the one he had bought, a gift from his parents.

My memory does include gifts, including a table hockey game, that always promised more than they delivered. Come to think of it, most childhood gifts did. Those early games, you might recall, were pretty clumsy efforts. And the puck, if expanded to real-life scale, would have been the size of an ottoman. But we used our imaginations and, somehow, made it all seem like fun. On one memorable Christmas, my buddy up the street got a table hockey game and an electronics set that allowed us to broadcast the game into an earphone whose wire we cleverly ran under his bedroom door and into the hallway.

It seemed like a brilliant idea. Hal, Mike (who lived across the back alley) and I were pretty much inseparable pals and we referred to ourselves as the Trio. We were an unstoppable force on the school playing field when we played scrub baseball. Anyway, we spent many an hour with two of us playing hockey, one doubling as the broadcaster, while the third lay on the hallway floor with an earphone in one ear and a finger in the other, to block out the sound of the voice from the other side of the door. It seems incredibly lame now, but let’s just say we were easily amused back when we were 10 or 11.

My two all-time favourite gifts were radios. I was seven when I got a two-transistor radio for Christmas. It was maybe four by six inches in size and I was in heaven when I could go to bed and listen to the Calgary Stampeders senior hockey team games.

When I was 12, I got a definite upgrade. It was a wooden cased AM/FM/shortwave radio that allowed to me to pull in stations from all over the place. Many nights I listened to the San Francisco Warriors play basketball in the old Cow Palace. That was still in the era when Calgary had two television stations and neither carried anything as exotic as pro basketball games.

The true value of most gifts, to be honest, is in their anticipation. We, especially as kids, build them up into such enormous needs that they can only rarely truly satisfy. Like the soldering gun I was dying for. (The desire for a particular gift is inevitably accompanied by the idea that life isn’t worth living without it.) I was a kid and really had nothing that needed soldering! But perhaps it eventually led to a long and fulfilling stained glass hobby.

Those radios, though, were the exceptions. To this day, I’m rarely happier than when I am listening to radio programs. Of course, now I have the luxury of accessing archives of classic radio shows and listening to podcasts of programs from across the country, the United States and even Europe. Most of it comes from a computer and not a radio. The passion, though, all started with that little two-transistor radio. The table hockey game left no such lasting impact.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.