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171211 December 11, 2017


Robert the Robot

The Present State of Christmas Presents
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

    (Editor's Note: I was invited to send in a Christmas story to the Old Huntsville magazine to be included in their December 2017 issue. It is full of memorable Christmas stories and if you still live in Huntsville and are able to get a copy, I highly recommend you do so. It is a very interesting issue. Below is the first part of the story I submitted and it will be followed up with the rest of the story next week.)

    What do you want for Christmas?

    That has always been a big question during the holiday season, and it triggers the thought of another big question I keep hearing these days. It seems the older I get the more often I am confronted with the question “Do you remember xxx?” where xxx is anything or anyone related to an event in my past life? This seems to especially be true on today’s internet social media sites where such questions appear to be a favorite subject. Often such inquiries are related to a picture posted of something common to us seniors like a clothesline, a cork clothes sprinkler head, a pay telephone or some item associated with a car we once drove or some of the music of our times.

    As the holiday season approaches, I got to thinking and I will go out on a limb and suggest that someday, and not too long in the future, someone will put forth the question of “Do you remember when we had to actually go to a store and buy real Christmas presents for those on our Christmas list?” Such an idea is already foreign to a generation who believes all presents should be bought online and shipped free, or consist of a gift card to a favorite store plucked from a rack in a grocery store.

    All I can say is yes, I remember those days, and I liked the old way of Christmas shopping better than the way it is done today. I know many of you will not agree with me, and I suppose your opinion is based upon you own personal memories of how you celebrated the holiday in your past. 

    Unlike Scrooge, I have some great memories of my Christmas past. My earliest Christmas memories are based upon the arrival of the Sears and Montgomery Ward’s Christmas catalogs which showed up well in advance of the actual holiday. From the moment they arrived I would get out a red pencil or ball point pen and go through the toy section circling all the newest toys of the year which I wanted to wake up on Christmas morning and find beneath our tree. Looking back I know there was no way all my wishes could ever have been granted, but in doing so I gave my parents some idea of what I really wanted. I was not as bad as Ralphie in “The Christmas Story” who wanted the Red Ryder BB gun, but I sure left a lot of strong hints.

    I come from a family who believed Christmas presents should not only be personalized, but also be bought in secret and remain so until they were distributed from beneath the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. No, we did not open them on Christmas Eve. Early wrapping and display of the presents was allowed, including shaking, but it was forbidden to try to remove any of the wrappings to see what treasures were beneath. Of course it was okay for Santa to leave our toys unboxed under the tree for us to find on Christmas morning, but all the presents for each other were systematically distributed and opened in front of the whole family. 

    Back in those days, some of the more expensive presents were placed on lay-away at one of the major department stores and weekly payments were made until the purchase price was reached and the item could be taken home. One present I remember in particular was one my Aunt Helen Hall got me one year. The item was a spin off from the vibrating electric football games we had so much fun with in our youth. This toy was not a football game, but was instead a race car game with the same type of vibrating board with a track consisting of curves and intersections and four colored little cars to race around the track from the starting point to the finish line. It was an expensive item for an aunt to buy for a nephew in our family, but by putting it on lay-away eased the burden. I remember she gave me a dollar a week for the eight weeks it took to pay it off and get it out of lay-away. It came from Cathy’s Hobby Shop, and even though I knew what it was it was still wrapped and placed beneath the tree, not to be opened until Christmas morning. Today I still do not know how my family put up with the terrible racket the vibrating metal board made, but I spent the next couple of days racing my car against all competitors over and over again.

Tudor Electric Sports Car Race Set

    Another favorite toy remembered from my past was the high-tech Robert the Robot. He was about 12 inches high and had grippers for hands to hold toys. This was before the days of wireless remote control toys, but Robert could move across the floor when you cranked a handle on a control which was connected to a cable attached to the back of the toy. It required no batteries and was simple to operate, and if you wanted him to move backward, you just cranked the handle in the opposite direction. Squeezing a trigger on the remote could alter his course left or right. His most memorable feature to me was another little crank on his back, which when turned would play a little plastic record inside his chest which said, “I am Robert Robot, mechanical man. Guide me and steer me wherever you can.”  

    Another year I got a Mattel Fanner-50 cap gun complete with Greenie-Stickum caps, and I was the hit of my gang of neighborhood outlaws.

Mattel Fanner 50

    I mention the memories of these toys to remind you how great I thought it was to get up on that magical day and have a physical toy or other present to open right then and there.  Even if it was not something I wanted, it was still fun to have a box to tear the wrapping off and see what was inside.


        Memphis, TN - Have a Christmas Story to share with your classmates? Send it in and I'll publish it. We all love to hear about the "good old days". 

    For those that read last week's issue earlier and missed Gary Collier's obituary, it was added to the issue later in the week and you can go back and read it if you missed it.


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:   Santa Claus Breakfast

Don Stroud 

LHS '65


    Hi Tommy, I would like to share a photo taken at our Santa pancake breakfast held at the Claysville Elementary School. Gary and Sharon Hatcher, class of 1965, were Mr and Mrs Claus. Of course, Gary was Santa and Sharon read several Christmas stories to the children. They all had a good time especially knowing that Santa got their lists of things that they wanted.Gary was a terrific Santa and Sharon was so good with each child. I even got to give him my list and almost overloaded his lap! All of the proceeds went to our Blessing of the Back Pack project that provides food for the weekend for 127 needy children at Claysville. It is wonderful to have friendships that has span 52 years and still going strong. I would like to wish a very Merry Christmas and safe and Happy New Year to all our Lee Familee. Once again, I would also like to thank you Tommy for everything you do for us each and every week! SALUTE!

Subject:    Cold and Flu Season
W. Dale Meyer
Would have been LHS '66

    I am glad you have recovered from your illness. Recently, my special needs grandson was admitted to the hospital after throwing up a number of times over 2 days. He was unable to hold anything down.

    I was stunned to find they had not monitored his electrolytes. Fortunately, my daughter is a cardiac and er RN and through her insistence blood was drawn, revealing a critically low level of potassium. He was immediately transferred to icu and was infused with potassium.

    If left unchecked, critically low levels of potassium can create many issues including abnormal heart rhythms. The message here is that does not require 12 plus years of education to recognize the critical nature of potassium. This applies to adults as well as kids. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your loved ones. It just may save their life.