One Christmas I got my first abject lesson in doing the right thing when reacting to a gift.
Thankfully it had nothing to do with a deranged nightmare of a pink bunny suit like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Or socks. Or underwear. Unless it was Spiderman Underoos in which case I would have been all in. Not the iron-on decal Underoos (“Nooooo!”), but the ones that looked like his blue/red webbed super suit.
Never got those. Mine were the decals. But I digress.
This entry has to do with a younger cousin, two remote-controlled cars, and The Great Present Mix-Up of 1978. It’s still talked about to this day. Nowhere else but in my head, and with a small measure of “Ya Done Good, Jason, Ya Done Good.”
See what had happened was, my Dad and/or my aunt, this was at her house in Livonia, had wrapped one car for me and one for my cousin, who was maybe five at the time. I was eight and as you no doubt know, what happened next was definitely what happened next.
He got my car... I got his.
Now, dear reader, you must understand the child mind in this cataclysmic disaster. My cousin Nick has my tricked-out, blazing fast, fully-operational Death Star of an R/C car with full-motion and steering wheel remote and levers and lights and switches. And I have his kindergarten-centric, jalopy of a joke of a WIRED (as in, tethered) toy vehicle which only turned if you went in reverse or something. I’ve blocked the details of his junkyard Fisher-Price whip from my memory.
So in my defense I had no prior training with siblings on matters such as this. As an only kid, the presents marked with my name generally could not be confused with, say, the Pierre Cardin after-shave, cologne gift box intended for my uncle. Or a Hugh Hefner velour turtle neck sweater for my Dad. I was flying blind.
In my memory things get sketchy after this egregious miscalculation has been revealed, but either my Dad or my aunt quietly motioned for me to leave the room with them. Of course my cousin was so engrossed in quite possibly the greatest Christmas present he ever received, he didn’t notice our exit.
“Look, don’t panic. Obviously he got your car. Just play with his and with him. Maybe show him how to use it. And when we leave, after he falls asleep, we will make the switch.”
And that’s exactly what happened. I dutifully played the part of “Oldest Cousin” and pretended all was right with the world. It was fun. Eventually we stayed up so late SNL came on and it was the Land Shark sketch (Season 3, Episode 11; I looked it up) and having seen the movie Jaws I was convinced it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen.
My cousin did indeed fall asleep, the switch was made, and in the years we spent growing up visiting each other, never a word was spoken about the Great R/C Car Christmas Mix-Up of 1978.