The round, looped coils of metal that Richard James created in 1943 were the hit of Christmas 1992 around the Jennings' extended-family holiday table -- there was a baker's dozen of us plus five.
Mom placed small toy gifts beside the dinner plates of each "boy" and "girl" with no regard to the fact that we were all adults.
No one recalls what the girls unwrapped.
The boys unwrapped Slinkys.
We played with Slinkys all afternoon, piling books for them to slink down since we had no stairs, racing plastic against metal.
Mom (age 75 at the time) told me that the checkout clerks at Fry's Supermarket had given her some odd looks as she bought those nine Slinkys.
That was also the year Mom left a bowl full of homemade chocolate chip cookie dough on the counter while she took a catnap.
Most everyone admitted to taking one spoonful of dough on the way through the kitchen. What they did not admit, was how many times, they "needed" to pass through the kitchen before Mom woke up to a bowl of unbaked cookie dough crumbs.
There were gifts under the tree, but what friends and family remember that year were those silly Slinkys and lack of cookies and how we laughed.
The perfect tree
My most memorable before-Christmas-Day-moment happened in 2000.
My 6-year-old daughter Andromeda and I, armed with a permit and an ax, drove to the woods to chop down the perfect Christmas tree.
My brother had offered his chain saw, but having never operated one, I declined.
I looked at my permit map and decided the area around Woods Canyon Lake looked like a fine place for us to:
a. not to get lost in and
b. find a nice little tree
We embarked on our pleasant adventure.
We sang carols and ate lunch in the car. While she napped, I planned in my head just where I would park (near the picnic tables) and how fun it would be to find the "perfect tree."
The switchback road leading into the picnic area was blocked with an iron bar, marked with a "no parking" sign. I could not ignore the bar, but I ignored the sign and parked.
Off we headed into the woods, meandering around until we spied a beautiful tree that looked to be the maximum height allowed by the permit: 10 feet a little less than twice my height.
The perfect tree had grown in the light of sun right next to a stubbier tree, making it difficult to chop.
Maybe I should have brought the chain saw.
Did I mention I had never used an ax, either?
I don't wear a watch, so I don't know how long it took me to hack at the fist-sized trunk of the tree, I only know I was tired after it fell.
So after a rest, I had my daughter pick up the top end of the tree while I grabbed the bottom with one hand and the ax in the other.
As we trekked over the hilly terrain, the tree became too heavy for Andromeda to heft off the ground.
Well, I figured, I can hoist the tree onto my shoulder and carry the ax with the other hand. Easy. Not far to go.
Ho Ho oh no. I misstepped, dropped the ax, held onto the tree and reassessed my folly. I knew the picnic tables were over the next hill, so, Andi walked with me to the picnic tables where we propped the tree up.
I walked back alone for the ax and told Andi to "scream like the dickens" if anyone came near her.
From the picnic tables we set our next sights on the dumpster, not to rid ourselves of the tree, but as the next rest spot.
Once there, I had another decision to make -- I could cross the gully with the tree and probably fall on my keister, or I could haul the tree to the truck via the uphill road.
I crossed the gully safely with Andi and the ax, again leaving her with the scream like the dickens admonishment because now, she would be out of my line of sight while I carried the tree, perhaps a block, up the road and around the corner to the truck.
I did not pause to rest as I walked up the road except to shift the tree from my right shoulder to my left. I realized that if I put the tree down, there it would remain; a testament to my good intentions on that paved forest road.
Ho ho oh no.We realized the tree was longer than the truck bed.
When things hang out over the tailgate they must have a red flag. Did I have a red flag? No.
What I had was Andi's red winter coat and the dog's leash, so I improvised a flag.
Ho Ho Ho. We were jolly now. We sang carols most of the way home.
Once there I hopped out of the truck and proceeded to take the tree indoors.
Ho Ho oh no.The tree was several feet taller than my ceiling.
I got out my handsaw, put the tree back on the bed of the tuck and sawed.
Ho Ho Ho. The tree fit inside the house, until I put the bucket of sand and water under it and called my brother for the chain saw.
My advice to you and yours is that however you've enjoyed previous holidays, write down past merriment.
Let your stories be your Christmas present to the future.