From One Kid’s Perspective, If I can Remember Correctly
By Jason Jones
EAST TEXAS – The debate has raged for ages: what is, or what was, the best Christmas gift a kid could ever get? Was it truly a Red Ryder carbine action 200 shot range model air rifle with the compass in the stock and the thing which tells time (a sundial perhaps?)
I got one of those in 1977, six years before “A Christmas Story” made it to the big screen. It was pretty awesome, but there was no compass. I’m also certain it couldn’t be used to tell time either.
It was great, but not number one on my list.
I think we all know what number one is. It’s different for everyone. I feel confident in my selections, as should you. We have it easy because it’s in hindsight. Today’s kids are living the Christmas dream and won’t know for sure until they are way down the road.
There are no wrong answers, though I’d cringe at the suggestion that some sort of electronic device or fancy phone could be the “best Christmas gift ever!” I also don’t think it should be a status symbol. Santa shouldn’t be responsible for anyone’s popularity… although I did pretty well with that pair of parachute pants I got in 1983.
But again, those answers are valid I suppose. I’m not the judge of all things Christmas. I am, however, the guy who controls this opinion-heavy column, so I’m going to talk about the best stuff I found under the tree at my house.
The runner-up for me was “under” the tree around 1971 or 72. It was a bright green bicycle, a Western Flyer to be exact. Folks might remember the style of bicycle as that of a Schwinn Stingray. Schwinn was the standard, but several companies made similar models. The Western Flyer was one.
As I mentioned before, mine was green. Not a dark emerald green, but more like a metallic lime green. It had tall handlebars. In my later years, my experience with motorcycles would lead me to refer to them as “ape hangers,” but at the age of six I didn’t have that knowledge, so they were just “tall.” The seat was a “banana seat.” It was long and resembled a banana, albeit a white vinyl one with a matching green tuck-and-roll insert down the middle.
I loved that bike. My dad had to drill a couple of new holes in the seat support so I could finally get on it. I learned to pedal and stay on two wheels in the front yard before graduating to the driveway. Eventually I was riding it all over town, violating sidewalk ordinances.
I rode that bike for several years. I learned to ride a wheelie on it, and it served as my ride during my ramp-to-ramp phase. It was truly a kid’s best friend.
It stayed with me until the sixth grade when I felt the pressure to get a ten-speed so I could be cool like my friends.
Speaking of the ramp-to-ramp phase, it was inspired by the all-time greatest Christmas present in the history of Christmas – in my humble opinion of course – The Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle.
Mine arrived in 1973. It was, by far, the hottest toy for grade-school boys that year. Maybe ever. The only things I’ve seen that matched the hype in the years that followed were Cabbage Patch Kids and Furbys, neither of which were marketed to elementary aged young men.
Danger was our middle name.
The Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle was the best. No batteries needed. It was a motorcycle with a gyroscopic rear wheel that propelled it toward and over the ramp you had set up over whatever death-defying obstacle you could imagine. My favorite was the dog, or rather “The dog of death.”
Upon the motorcycle sat Evel himself. He was about seven inches tall and extremely bendy. His uniform was white with the patriotic V shaped, star-spangled graphic on the front. He also had a cool helmet which you could remove… in theory.
My Evel Knievel’s head came off with the helmet Christmas morning. Subsequently, all my daredevil adventures were performed by either a headless rider, or one sporting a large duct tape scarf. Either way, it somehow added to the cool factor.
My friend Sean got one the same year. We met in the middle of college street every day to jump something, or maybe a lot of somethings. It was a great time to be a kid.
Evel eventually was worn completely out and was likely disposed of during a spring-cleaning incident several years later.
When my son was 9 or 10, I found that I could order one online, which I did one Christmas. That morning he opened it and we played with it for hours. He was pretty good at keeping his stuff in good shape, and it was eventually stored away.
A few years later, Sean, who is still one of my very closest friends, got married. My son and I brainstormed and took a chance that the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle would mean a lot to Sean, so we wrapped it up and gave it to him.
I worried about it for weeks. Without that sentimental element, it was simply a cheesy gift. The day of his wedding, Sean opened the gift, and I could see that he was happy about it. I just had no idea how happy.
Sean and his wife, Cheryl, went to Jamaica on their honeymoon. Within a few days, Sean began posting photos of their adventures online. The first photo every day was of the Evel Knievel action figure standing in front of whatever beautiful scenery or attraction they came across that day.
I’m guessing he liked the gift.
So, Evel sits in first place… at least for me. You may have your Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Toss Across, Easy Bake Oven or Lincoln Logs, all worthy choices, but how many of those have made the trip in someone’s carry-on to Jamaica for a honeymoon? Can’t be many.
I hope all of you look back on the Christmas of 2021 as one of your best ever.
Jason Jones may be reached via email at [email protected]