You are among
a select few if this is still December 25. You are probably in the
post-gift-unwrapping phase. Maybe you were given one item that you
really wanted. If so, someone really understands you.
You may be
recovering from dinner. You probably think you ate too much, but
in three hours, you’ll want a snack.
about overflow. It is a day of unclogged closets and clogged arteries.
It is a time when we ought to reflect on just how much we have.
More than we need, surely. More than we want? Maybe.
of presents received will fade as surely our memories of SuperBowl
XVI or XXXII have faded into a confused jumble, if that. There may
be a handful of memories of great presents, scattered in our minds
across the years like toys buried in mounds of unwrapped gift paper.
Yet, once upon a time, the toys meat a lot to us — for a day or
a week or a year.
I offer you
a challenge. Make a list of the best Christmas toys you received
prior to age 18. It will not be a long list.
about how long you played with them. How long did they mean something
There is method
to my madness. If you will go through the exercise, you may learn
something of value.
My best gift
was a Schwinn Black Phantom bicycle. I got it in 1950. I remember
it because we were living in Denver, so I can date that Christmas.
According to the Web, those bikes cost $90, which was about $800
in today’s money. I had remembered the price as $100. The price
mattered to me in 1950, so I recalled it within an 11% range — and
on the high side. My grandmother gave it to me. She was living in
That bike was
THE kids’ bike in my era. It had fat tires, only one speed, and
You can see photos here.
I guess it
was the equivalent of owning a Hummer. It absorbed a lot of energy,
the same way a Hummer does. I supplied the energy.
I wanted that
bike because of the advertising. Schwinn advertised in "Boy’s
Life," the Boy Scout magazine. I was never interested in scouting,
but I liked reading the magazine. I knew nothing about three-speed
lightweight bikes, which were far more rational. They were not what
kids rode in 1950.
Why was that
my best present? It gave me mobility, but any bike would have done
that. It was expensive. There was status involved. No one else I
knew had one. I think that was the key.
Over the years,
I lost my taste for status, but it took a long time. I think I was
20 before it finally lost any attraction for me. Better late than
me in retrospect is that the toys mean nothing to me now, even as
memories. They provided amusement. But so did books. I remember
the books. Books were cheaper. They provided more hours of amusement.
So, I buy books
today. I buy them without guilt, especially cheap ones. Books are
my toys. I justify them in terms of the fact that they are also
tools of my trade.
As stuff goes,
books are good. Others can use them after I’m gone. But stuff eventually
goes, including us.
I am reminded
of the words of the Apostle Paul:
was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I
thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish
things (1 Corinthians 13:11).
We put away
childish toys. It is a mistake to substitute toys for grown-ups.
If you get
a present, will you still appreciate it in 20 years? I like music
from the Mountain was one of the best gifts I ever received.
I like DVDs of classic movies, especially westerns. Last year, I
got these: Shane,
Searchers — three S-title westerns. That was a haul!
remember when I first saw The
Christmas Story (1984), the movie about Ralphie’s dream
of a Red Ryder 200-shot B-B gun. I owned such a gun in my youth.
I can recall going to a store where Red and Little Beaver appeared,
live. So, I empathized with Ralphie.
The movie was
written by Jean Shepherd, who had a cameo roll. He tells Ralphie
that the line forms at the rear . . . way over there. Jean Shepherd
was the greatest story-teller of my era. I listened to him religiously
at seminary. His
45-minute radio programs are still on-line. Thanks to the web,
Shep lives! Excelsior!
what it means to be a kid. He didn’t forget. Neither did Bill Cosby.
Most of us do forget. Christmas reminds us. I think that’s why we
Today, I will
have my first Christmas with a grandchild. I am sure I will remember
this Christmas better than most of the others — probably more than
all the others.
we celebrate it is not a holiday that celebrates the supernatural.
It should be, but it isn’t. So, we make the best of it. I say this
as a former student of John Murray, a true Scottish Presbyterian,
a throwback to an earlier era. He was not like the Massachusetts’
Puritans, 1659—81, who levied a five-shilling fine on anyone
who celebrated Christmas, but he shared their spirit of Christmas.
He did not wish anyone a merry Christmas. He did not respond when
anyone wished him one. I once wished him a happy Easter. The cold
look of his one good eye caught me up short. (I never learned how
he viewed Happy New Year. If it had been accompanied by a bottle
of Scotch and a cigar, probably favorably.)
my family shall have our traditional Christmas dinner, just as we
have ever since we saw The Christmas Story — at a Chinese
restaurant. We have never ordered the Peking duck with its head
still intact, but we have honored an honored tradition, just as
it was handed down by Shepherd to a new generation.
IS WORTH PAYING FOR
bought a $1,000 tablet PC computer. It lets me write on the screen.
It recognizes my handwriting. It lets me take notes verbally. It
converts these notes into digital text. It then let’s me retrieve
the notes by key words. I have waited for such a tool since I got
my first computer, a mini, in 1980.
I would have
paid far more. I am a great believer in buying the tools you need.
If you can get a good price for a used tool in good condition, buy
it. But pay retail if you must.
My view is
that production beats consumption most of the time. Work trumps
leisure most of the time. Holidays are good only to the extent that
they let us refresh ourselves to do better work. Recreation is re-creation.
Like the day of rest in the Bible, or like the annuals feasts, the
breaks from work remind us of the joy of creation.
For those who
do not share my view of work, I can say only this: you have not
found your calling, which is the most important thing you can do
in which you would be most difficult to replace. If you get paid
for your calling, so much the better.
There is an
old saying: "the right tool for the right job." I heartily
affirm that saying. It is a saying for the ages. To do your job
well, buy the tool that will enable you to do it best in the time
you have allotted. If you can do the job in less time with a more
expensive tool, buy the tool. Save time, not money. You can always
make more money. You cannot buy more time.
Toys are not
worth the money — not retail, anyway. But tools to make toys, if
you are a toy maker, are worth the money.
But don’t consumers
set value? No; they set prices. The competitive bidding of consumers
establishes final prices, but it does not establish final value.
Value is subjective and imputed.
There is great
value in satisfying the desires of consumers, a value that goes
beyond the prices that consumers pay.
this. Consumers may not.
This is the
lesson of Christmas as we celebrate it. The toys matter for children,
but fade in value. The toys matter for the adults who give them
to children, and they do not fade in value nearly so fast. The children
impute less and less value to the toys. The givers impute value
long after. Videos of the opening of the toys mean a great deal.
December 24, I would have told you, "Buy the camcorder.
It’s not a
toy. It’s a tool. It preserves value."
day is over, find ways of preserving value.
Pictures fade more slowly than memories.