A 70s Christmas Story
(c) 2022 Darin Miller
The box appeared beside Dad’s chair mid-November, plain brown and inconspicuous, secured by plastic ties like the ones used to bundle the newspapers I delivered daily. I was only ten—well almost, and my curiosity was—I want to say voracious, but it’s probably more apt to say out-of-control. I found new and inventive ways to quiz Mom about what might be in the box, and her always-ready and all-too-clever responses only served to confirm what I already suspected.
The box was for me!
This was a big year. On December 17th, I would be hitting the double digits—ten, to be precise—and this was also the year I had discovered music. Not just the old fuddy-duddy stuff Mom and Dad played on the car radio or our ancient General Electric “portable” record player with the glowing tubes, but music I, along with my older sister, Gina, had discovered on our local rock and roll station. The gift I wanted most was my very own portable music system, known at the time as a boombox. Kids today would laugh—those things were freaking heavy and had a battery life of about thirty-five minutes, requiring eight “D” batteries, which weren’t exactly cheap. It was also something that would fit very nicely into that nondescript box.
My family always went to the grocery on Friday nights. It was the last Friday before Christmas, and I was desperate to know what was inside that container. My mind went into overdrive trying to devise a feasible plan, when a circumstance was handed to me, almost as if by God Himself. You see, this was also the year Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter, premiered on ABC. I was completely smitten after the pilot, but during its first season, the show never aired at a regular time. It was used to fill in gaps in the programming schedule and always performed well. Whether this was due to the support of ladies who appreciated a strong female role model or because of a bunch of eager young fellas like myself—well, and their fathers—is a topic for another time. The point is, I never missed an episode, and one was scheduled for that Friday night. DVRs and VCRs weren’t an option in 1977, so it had to be viewed live or risk missing it altogether. I begged the parents to let me stay home while they went out to dinner and to the grocery with my brother and sister. I promised to stay inside, and answer neither the telephone nor any knocks at the locked front door.
I was already spying that box out of the corner of my eye when they agreed.
Once they had gone, I gave them all of ten minutes—to make sure Mom hadn’t forgotten her list or Dad his wallet. I was too smart to get caught like that. I knew from my paper route that the ends of the plastic bands securing the box were glued together, and once that glue was breached, there would be no reattaching them. I took great care to ease both bands centimeter by centimeter until they were no longer holding the box shut. I had a moment of panic when it occurred to me that if the box itself were sealed with tape, my investigation was over—I would have had no way to hide where I had cut my way in. But Mom had already investigated the contents, and the only things keeping the box together were those plastic bands, and now they were on the floor, the box flaps beginning to open on their own! I pried them open carefully, noting the exact positioning of all the packing material as I removed it, piece by piece.
And there it was!
My beloved boombox! The brand was Yorx, and it was even better than I’d ever imagined! Not only did it have an AM/FM radio, but also an eight-track player and a cassette player! Joy of joys! But that wasn’t all—it wasn’t the usual one-speaker jobbie most of my friends had. It was actual true-blue stereo!
I knew this was my mother’s doing…she always went that extra mile.
I rounded up a couple of those old fuddy-duddy eight tracks and cassette tapes, carefully got the player out of its box and spent the next twenty minutes or so in a state of bliss I’ll never know again.
But it was getting late, and it was time to carefully repack everything before Dad’s car pulled back into the drive. I took great care to ensure that everything that came out of that box went back in, and in the reverse order from which it had come out. Everything was going according to plan. I eased the first plastic band back over one end of the box and got it into place. I almost had the second one in place when the unthinkable happened.
The glue on the band broke.
It sprung away from the box like a live wire.
Cheezits! I was busted!
Panic seized my throat as I considered my options. I tried pulling the strap’s loose ends underneath the box and attempted to secure them with Scotch tape, but it wouldn’t hold, and Mom would have noticed the bulky tape. Scratch that. I tried again, using only the weight of the box to keep the ends tucked beneath the box. Eyeballing it from across the room, I thought it might just pass muster. When Mom eventually moved the box, she might just believe the glue had only just then come undone…
I was awakened that night with Mom standing over me, furious. She hadn’t noticed the box until shortly after she sent us to bed, but once she did, the jig was up. She told me this was the last straw. I was a notorious Christmas snooper, but I’d gone too far this time. First thing in the morning, she was shipping the stereo back to Spiegel, where she had ordered it from their catalog. I was devastated. I cried, begged, and made promises I could never keep, but that box disappeared from beside Dad’s chair first thing in the morning, just as Mom had guaranteed.
On Christmas morning, I dreaded seeing the inevitable hole under the tree where my present should be while my brother and sister delighted in whatever spoils they discovered. As I followed them into the room, I was stunned to see my beloved Yorx stereo sitting amongst a handful of Blondie, ABBA, and Olivia Newton-John eight-tracks and cassettes.
Mom took me aside, kneeling to my height as tears of wonder and joy ran down my face. She put a finger under my chin and forced me to look directly into her eyes. “Do you know why your Christmas snooping makes me so angry?” she asked.
I shook my head, snuffling and wiping my eyes. I honestly didn’t understand.
“Because for us,” she indicated herself and my father. “The joy of Christmas is seeing the reaction in each of your faces as you discover your gifts. When you snoop, you’re taking our Christmas away from us. It isn’t really fair.” She stood and smiled, patting my face before sending me over to the Christmas tree.
A light bulb flared brightly in my head. I hadn’t even considered her perspective. I felt so incredibly stupid and inconsiderate. I was utterly ashamed of myself. I made a promise then and there that I most definitely could keep.
And I never snooped again.