“The following is a contributor post by the Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage.”
Who roasts chestnuts on an open fire…? This was not a thing that we did when I was growing up, but I distinctly remember hearing Perry Como and Bing Crosby sing about it every year. I don’t even know what chestnuts smell like, but if you were to ask a ten year old me I would infer that they probably smelled of a cross between the pine cones my Mother would gather from our backyard and throw into the fireplace on Christmas Eve, combined with the cinnamon-laced fake cotton snow she used to dig out from the shed every year to re-create Santa’s Village on one our mantles. I also have a distinct memory of my Father getting tired of all the Como and Crosby, only to throw on a little Glen Campbell.
When I was ten, I didn’t really care for any of it. It’s ironic that I’ll listen to that stuff these days just to carry my mind back to those simpler times. In fact, it’s the soundtrack to this piece of writing right now, and I find that I’m a bit partial to Campbell’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” There’s something about the slight twang in his voice as he does his best Frank Sinatra impression.
I suppose it’s no wonder that my most cherished Christmas gaming memory is from the same year that I got my Sony PlayStation, because the PS1 is probably my favorite console of all-time, next to the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Luckily, my Father liked to play video games just as much as I did, and at times it felt like he was in as much of a competition with the neighbor kids as I was. As I’ve mentioned before, I was one of those weird kids who owned an Atari Jaguar, with that in mind, it’s not a stretch that my Father jumped on the chance to buy the Sony PlayStation as an upgrade to what, ultimately, was a pretty disappointing system. The Jaguar just never had the library of games it deserved.
Whenever we would visit the local EB Games, he would chat with the sales associates to get as much information as he could… I even remember at one point we almost came home with a Panasonic 3DO after trading in the Jaguar, but the guy behind the counter convinced both my Father and I that we would be better off with a PlayStation, not to mention, it was a hundred dollars less than the Sega Saturn. Though, that day we didn’t come home with the PlayStation; I think we ended up picking up several SNES games instead. I was a bit disappointed, and I would have liked to have a Saturn even. We had rented one from Blockbuster a few different times, but the game selection—even in ‘96—was a bit paltry.
The days leading up to Christmas that year I poured through and wore out the pages of the Toys R Us catalog that had come in the mail. Of course, I had already asked Santa for a PlayStation (since we didn’t come home with either a Saturn or a PlayStation the day we found out about it), but I needed games to go along with it; Jet Moto and Mortal Kombat Trilogy were two of the games I fondly remember lusting over. But there were other toys I wanted too, like more action figures to add to my collection; I still didn’t have the Age of Apocalypse Weapon X figure, though I had traded my Ninja Force Sabertooth figure for the Age of Apocalypse Cyclops action figure that my friend had. I couldn’t pass it up, he still had all of the accessories and weapons to go along with the trade.
Ten years old is probably TOO old to keep perpetuating the Santa mythology on your child, but my Mother still insisted that Santa was real, and magical. A couple of years prior to that I had already deduced that Santa and my Mother shared the same exact hand writing, but she refused to let me crush the tradition. She was bent on keeping it alive for at least one more year. Christmas Eve eventually came. Sine my Mother wasn’t budging, I figured I could still play along;
“Are we putting out milk and cookies for Santa this year?”
“Actually, I don’t think he wants milk and cookies, maybe we can put out cheese and crackers for him this year,” my Mother retorted.
Ah HA! Of course, because that’s definitely not one of my Mother’s favorite snacks. I knew Santa—if he were real—wouldn’t want cheese and crackers… But I kept my mouth shut because I had a plan. I would pretend to fall asleep, wait until my parents went back to their room, and would sneak out and hide behind the couch, and wait patiently until the time that I could leap out and catch my Mom in the act of putting out all of those gifts from “Santa.” My plan went off almost without a hitch, but some time around 1 a.m. I gave in, and I feel asleep behind the couch. When I came to, my parents were already awake and milling about in the kitchen, fixing a pot a coffee. I had to explain why I was asleep behind the couch, and admit to the fact that I hadn’t actually seen anything. I didn’t catch “Santa” in the act. My parents had a chuckle and we carried on about our Christmas morning.
Presents came and went, and as we exchanged gifts, the pile under the tree seemed to get smaller and smaller, until there was only a couple of boxes left. I still hadn’t gotten to the PlayStation, though I had opened a couple of games for the system, so I knew that it HAD to be one of the remaining boxes. Surely enough, eventually I ripped open some glittery paper to reveal the penultimate black and grey box, but when I opened the box inside of the paper… NOTHING. Well, it was stuffed with other smaller boxes and wadded up paper. What happened!?!? I knew it was too light, that’s why I hadn’t opened it earlier. There was no way that it was a PlayStation.
A look of disappointment started to wash over my face. Maybe Santa was real, maybe he was mad that I tried to catch him coming down the chimney. It was all my fault, I should have guessed that Santa would write in the same style as my Mom’s handwriting just to trick me! And now I had gone a been a bad child, ruined my chance to play the games that my parents bought me for the system they knew Santa would bring me.
The disappointment would not last long though. Instead, my disappointment was supplanted with confusion as my Dad let out a belly laugh that would make Saint Nick jealous. I looked over to him wondering what he thought was so funny, at which point he pointed to the entertainment center. I had completely ignored the TV, but there it was, already out of the box and hooked up, ready to go, ready for us to throw in a disc and try it out. How could I have possibly missed it!?!? My Father had done it again, because he pulled the same trick on me several Christmases before, when we got the Nintendo Entertainment System. I should have known.
So there it is, my most cherished gaming Christmas memory is one of opening a near-empty box.
The Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage is also known as Berkough, you can find his other musings about video games on the blog section of his user profile at SIFTD.net (http://siftd.net/#!/profile/berkough), or by following him on Twitter @berkough.
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