I am a fan of the movie “A Christmas Story.” That’s not profound and it certainly doesn’t make me unique. After all, since 1997, Turner Broadcasting has run “A Christmas Story” for 24 straight hours on at least one of its networks. And millions watch it, eyeballs fixated on – as the main character, Ralphie, puts it – “the best Christmas gift I had received or would ever receive.”
So what makes this movie, produced for $3.3 million and grossing $20.6 million, so appealing? Aside from the facts that we all see a little of our own family in the characters, it’s more the quest for the ultimate Christmas gift.
For Ralphie, it’s a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle.
But we all had that one gift we all wanted, the holy grail of Christmas gifts. And we were willing to do anything to get it. We just knew that if we got it, our lives would be forever better. We’d have excellent grades. We’d have a good career. We’d have a perfect life. We would walk tall and we’re fear no one.
My Red Ryder-level gift was a Johnny Lightening race track. I was certain if I didn’t get one, I would wind up a drunken derelict. Johnny Lightening was like Hot Wheels, but with one big difference – Johnny Lightening made a track that had a launching hook. You set the car over the hook which was at the bottom of a hill. When you shoved the lever on the side of the track forward forcefully, the hook grabbed a slot in the bottom of the car and propelled it up the hill and around the track.
A clear plastic guard was at the top of the hill. At first, I couldn’t figure out why the thing was there, so I took it off. It wasn’t long after that I learned about centrifugal force, although I didn’t know that’s what you called it. When the car got to the top of the hill and headed directly into the first curve without the aid of the plastic guard, it flew off the track and hit the wall leaving a paint mark.
The Christmas morning I descended the stairs and saw that race track set up beside the tree was pure magic. I hesitated at first. Shouldn’t I wait until my brother was awake? Shouldn’t I wait for my parents? My self-control being what it was at 9 years old buckled quickly when the track seemed to beckon to me. I was off the races, literally.
My wife’s quest was for a purple cowgirl outfit. That’s boots, vest, hat, shirt and skirt. In fairness to her, that was during her tomboy phase.
Kate’s late father was not only a fan of “A Christmas Story” – he grew up during that era -- but he knew all about Red Ryder and his peacemaker. One Christmas, he graced my son and me with a Red Ryder BB gun each. The only difference in the two is the special plaque he had engraved for my son’s gun. We still have them and still do a little target practice with them from time to time.
Beyond the universal quest for that gotta-have present, “A Christmas Story” always reminds me of my family. There was my dad who went away every morning to somewhere to do something and returned home every evening. There was my mom who made sure we got dressed and off to school every morning. She was there with snacks when we returned, and she always made us do our homework before going to play. Unlike Ralphie’s little brother, I did like my mother’s meatloaf. It was the spinach and beef liver that I thought was served much too often.
“A Christmas Story” is based on three short stories written by Jean Shepard and are part of a collection called “In God We Trust, All Other Pay in Cash.” Shepard was a radio personality, which is another reason I am enthralled by the movie. Had he been born before the wireless was invented, he’d be called a storyteller. Personally I think radio could use a few more like him.
As I have aged – I refuse to use the phrase “grown up” as I have yet to do that – my quest gift has changed quite a bit. I no longer want for anything. I have a wonderful family, a nice home, plenty of food and a good job. What I hope for each year is that moment when the family (outlaws and in-laws) is gathered at our home. The meal has been served and enjoyed. Now we’re sitting, sharing, talking. And in that moment, I sit back and soak it all in. The chatter. The laughter. The love. That’s my gift. And if it lasts but for just a moment, it was worth all the effort.
Like Ralphie’s family, we’re not perfect, but we’re always there for each other be it Christmas or any other day of the year.
By the way, my wife never received that wonderful fashion statement of the purple cowgirl outfit. When I told her that this could be the year, she simply replied, “Guess again.” Good thing I kept the receipt.
That’s my Christmas story. What’s yours?