Memory’s a freakish bank/
where embarrassing treasures/
still draw interest–
As I approached our tree on Christmas morning, 1978, I knew I wouldn’t be getting the toy I wanted most.
The Barbie Star Traveler motor home, in all its orange-upholstered-and-rainbow-striped glory, was easily two feet long.
Under the tree, it would have been unmistakable.
Its absence was a disappointment but not a shock. My parents had spent the past few weeks telling me the motor home was out of the question. It was too big, too expensive, and too likely to end up broken, since I didn’t take good care of my toys.
I don’t remember what presents I did open that morning, but I’m sure I liked them—I always seemed to get more presents than I deserved and more than I imagined my parents (those masters of tamping down expectations) could provide.
After admiring our presents for a while, we would start getting ready for the two-hour trip to my grandparents’ house. Both sets of grandparents, actually, lived in the same small Southwestern Pennsylvanian town, and so did nearly all our extended family. Christmas morning at our house was cozy, but the day would have felt empty without somewhere else to go, a reason to dress up, a big Grandma-prepared dinner that started with the passing of Oplatek, and a chance to see aunts, uncles, and various cousins.
Sitting in the back seat of the car, listening to Christmas carols on the radio, I looked forward to finding out what waited for me under my maternal grandparents’ artificial tree. It had been sitting there, wrapped, for several weeks; I had seen it and shook it on our last visit. It was shaped like a clothing box, but larger and surprisingly heavy, and it made only a dull thump. It didn’t correspond to anything I’d circled in the JC Penney Christmas catalog.
Present time at my grandparents’ house was orderly, with each person opening his or her present as the others looked on. My little brother probably went first, and then it was my turn. I remember sitting in the chair beside the tree as I tore into the red wrapping paper. The box inside was plain, so I had to open it too. I reached in and pulled out my present.
A frying pan?
As I held it up by the handle to show everyone, I’m sure I looked confused. It flitted through my mind that both my grandparents had suddenly gone senile, so I attempted a smile to spare their feelings.
“Oh, how silly!” My grandmother said. “That’s your mother’s present. Yours must be in the closet.”
I was relieved, but still perplexed, until she brought out the box that really belonged to me. It was easily two feet long.
I look terrible in the picture of me opening the Star Traveler—but my awkward toothy smile radiates joy.
My grandparents have passed away, and so has my little brother. My parents eventually divorced. The town all my relatives called home has decayed, and virtually no relatives live there anymore. My original Star Traveler disappeared at some point, after years of heavy play, but I bought another one at a country auction a few years ago for $7. Watching my daughter’s Barbies inhabit it, I can still feel a little of that original thrill.
True nostalgia-junkies like me can even experience a thrill from artifacts that pre-date our own past; that’s why everything from old-time radio shows to outdated advice books for teenagers bring me pleasure.
That’s the feeling I want to capture in this blog, which is devoted to bygone amusements, experiences, objects, and ideas.
I hope that, in time, you will share your own embarrassing treasures here.
P.S. This awesome blog post shows the real-life model for the Star Traveler.