Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 20, 2013
"A Christmas Story" stories
"A Christmas Story" is 30 years old this year and so I decided to see what special memories it might stir up for my family.
For those who may not have seen it or need a refresher, the plot follows Ralphie, a young boy living in Indiana in the 1940s, who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. When his mother voices her objections on the grounds that he might shoot an eye out, Ralphie decides to write an essay for class about wanting the gun. He gets a C+ on the paper, along with a warning from his teacher that, you guessed it, if he got his wish, he might shoot his eye out. Later, Ralphie asks a local department store Santa Claus for a Red Ryder BB gun, and Santa tells him the same thing ... before pushing Ralphie down a long exit slide with his boot.
Brother Dave remembers getting his BB gun and how his sons used it when he and wife Linda visited the farm.
"... My Red Ryder was a Christmas gift from Mom and Dad when I was about 9 or 10, I think. I had a lot of fun with it until I graduated to a .22 single-shot rifle. The boys used my gun as we never bought them one. Linda didn't think the 'city' boys needed one, so they had to make do with our trips to the farm."
Nephews Paul and Michael remembered shooting the BB gun when they visited the farm. Paul remarked:
"We were never allowed to shoot anything other than the trash, yet everyone thought we'd always get hurt. Grandma was terrified of it and ALWAYS said, 'You'll shoot your eye out!' as we headed out."
Michael recalled similar warnings.
"... I do remember that Mom always tried to hide it from us, and we always found it. We'd shoot at cans, bottles, panes of broken glass, metal signs (smart ...), and whatever else we could find. It's a wonder we didn't shoot our eye out!"
But beyond Ralphie's wish for a BB gun, the movie has several other aspects our family can relate to. Daughter Mariya said she loved how Ralphie's younger brother Randy was all bundled up to play in the snow. "Wish I could still get that snug in the winter," she said. She also remembered that one year dad Art received no less than three copies of the movie - two as gifts and a copy he had bought for himself.
Mariya’s comment about Randy made Art think about when he nagged his mother to dress him so he could go outside and play in the snow. She kept refusing, saying he’d no more than get out and he'd want to come in. But eventually, she gave in. She sat on the floor with her back against the couch dressing him. With the job just completed, Art told her he had to go to the bathroom. Donna hooked her elbows on the couch behind her, raised her bottom off the floor, and then began kicking her legs in frustration. Art said he decided to go outside and play, even though he had to go to the bathroom.
Daughter Katie mentioned the oddities of the various family members - the dad always complaining and cursing about the furnace or his car, the mom trying to keep the family organized and putting meals on the table, and Ralphie and Randy having run-ins with bullies.
"I love the quirky family 'cause we're quirky like that, too," she said.
That quirkiness and the movie came together in one case. Nicknames are common in Art's family - where everyone calls him Butch. His Uncle Art was "Maynard" to his kids. That name came from a 1983 TV commercial for Malt-O-Meal in which the father says, "Good stuff, Maynard," to encourage his son to try it.
Maynard lived in Wisconsin, but had purchased a motel in Daytona Beach, Fla. His son Dave - also called "Ud" from the ending of David - handled motel maintenance. Son Chip - who was Art Junior and so a "chip" off the old block - took care of the desk and customer needs.
One year just before Christmas, Dave saw the last hour of "A Christmas Story" and mentioned how funny it was to Chip. That led to the three of them watching the whole movie.
A favorite part for their dad was when Ralphie's father is notified he had received a "major award." When it arrived and was unpacked, they discover it is a lamp shaped like a woman's leg. Dave described what happened next.
"Dad just fell in love with the movie. Chip and I thought it would be cool to make a leg lamp for Dad to match the one in the movie. We buzzed around Daytona a few days to look for a female mannequin and finally found one. Needless to say, we got some strange looks from people wondering why we needed a female mannequin."
After cutting one "leg" free, and locating a shoe like the one in the movie, they mounted it to a base and installed the wiring and related lamp materials. The final step was adding a shade with fringe similar to the one in the movie. On the base a plaque was added with the words "Maynard's Major Award" inscribed on it.
After Dave and Chip were done making the leg lamp, a friend constructed a wooden pine box for it. After marking it "Fragile" - which the "Old Man" in the movie always pronounced as frah-jeelie - it was shipped to Maynard. Dave said his Dad was so pleased with the leg lamp that he displayed it in the front window of his home in Appleton and then in his home in Waushara County.
Art's been gone since 2001, but the leg lamp and the memories associated with it live on. Dave now has the lamp in his home.
I think Katie may have touched on the lasting appeal of the movie.
"I think this is a movie you grow into. You don't fully understand it when you are young. It's not until you are older that you see the subtle nuances and humor. It tells the story of a young boy, but from a grown man's perspective and I think we all remember our childhood with a bit of exaggeration, dramatics and rose-colored glasses."
So many of the things that loomed so large and important to us when we were young fade in importance. So when we look back, we can laugh at ourselves. After completing my phone conversation with Dave about the lamp, I wondered aloud, "Gee, now all I need is to find out if anyone ever froze their tongue to a flag pole like in the movie?" Without hesitation, Art replied, "My brother Tommy did that in junior high."
"I wonder if he'd be embarrassed if I mentioned that?" I said.
"I don't think so," answered Art. "He's mentioned it many times himself, grinning as he relates the story."