All of us have our favorite Christmas classics we never tire of watching.
For some, “It’s a Wonderful Life” tops the list, and for others it’s “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Some favor “A Christmas Carol,” and there are plenty of those who cherish “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
But my hands-down favorite is “A Christmas Story.” I favor it mostly because it is humorous, timeless and, after all, it is about an All-American, red-blooded Christmas.
The movie is flawless in the sense that it makes it easy to relate, and perhaps relive, Ralphie’s (Peter Billingsley) experiences as a young boy.
I remember well the first time I saw the movie — It was just prior to Thanksgiving of 1983 when it aired on TNT cable as part of a holiday marathon of movies.
Hibernating on the couch with soda and popcorn, I took it in with my wife, Kay, and two of our sons.
Most memorable about the Christmas classic is watching Ralphie try to convince his parents and anyone within earshot that a Red Ryder BB rifle would be an ideal gift. Those scenes brought back years of fond memories of my childhood spent in the small town of Ash Fork.
My favorite lines in the movie occur when Ralphie’s mother, his teacher, Santa Claus and about any adult he meets warns him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” That bleating I have told all our children is exactly the response I continually received from my parents when I passionately begged to have a Red Ryder BB gun while growing up in the mid-1950s.
In those days, owning an official Red Ryder carbine 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock represented excitement, pride and fun.
The rifle “was as cool and deadly a piece of weaponry as I had ever laid eyes on,” Ralphie told us in the movie.
Even today, those BB guns hold a special place in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. In the 1950s, they cost about $5, which was a huge amount of money for my parents, who were Depression-era survivors. Today, the rifles cost about $56.
As a young boy, I was drawn to the rifles because I read about every Red Ryder comic book that appeared on the shelves of the local drugstore.
Because I owned most of those comics, I was an authority on the fictional American cowboy and his trusty steed, Thunder.
He was the rough, tough cowpoke, also known as “The Famous Fighting Cowboy,” who lived on the Painted Valley Ranch with his sidekick, Little Beaver, and his horse, Papoose.
Knowing Red Ryder as I did, I despised the bad guy, Ace Hanlon, and his evil deeds.
When Red Ryder began airing on the radio — we didn’t have television in those days — I tuned in to every episode that our old Magnavox could pick up.
He later was featured in a number of movies and serials that I took in if my paper route money was enough to cover admission.
Longing for a BB gun
As a boy, I was a lot like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” in that I never stopped hounding my parents for a Red Ryder carbine. Finally, when I was 10 years old, I awoke one morning to find one of the rifles unwrapped and propped up under the Christmas tree.
From that day forth I was the envy of the neighborhood because I owned the treasure of all American boys.
I kept that Red Ryder for decades until it somehow disappeared after one of our family moves.
But each Christmas when one of our boys reached 10 years of age, they received as a gift a Red Ryder air gun.
The opening of each one of the rifle gifts was jokingly greeted with “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”
Only a few years ago, Kay teased me prior to the holidays saying she had purchased me the perfect present.
For days, I wondered what it could be. Maybe accessories for my truck or ATV, I thought. Possibly it was a new watch or maybe ASU season tickets?
I was way off in my guesses. When Christmas morning arrived, I excitedly unwrapped the present to find it was a modern-day replica of my first Red Ryder carbine.
The opening of the present was, of course followed by a warning from the family, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”
Today, the BB gun rests in the family gun case with all our other treasured firearms, including my grandfather’s .22 caliber pump rifle and my dad’s 12-gauge shotgun.
But Red Ryder always rides out when the grandkids visit. Their favorite pastime has long been plinking aluminum cans in the back yard, even when they weren’t old enough to cock the lever action.
I’m now 65 years old, but when I take dead-eye aim on those cans, I’m sighting in on Ace Hanlon. I’m also certain I’m the two-fisted Famous Fighting Cowboy, and Thunder is tied up around the corner.
I know Little Beaver is cocking his rifle to the side of me, and that spacious piece of land behind our Pine home is The Painted Valley Ranch.
But after a few minutes of plinking Ace, I steady myself — allow the grandkids to have a few shots — and slowly realize what is so holiday special about “A Christmas Story.”
It’s about kids, but for adults.