Yesterday's Magazette

2 – Disappearing Christmas Toys

By E. P. Ned Burke

Like leftover food at our house, any toy I received seemed to have the lifespan of a fruit fly. One day it appeared–usually on Christmas morning– and by the end of January, it had already died, or vanished.


I do have a recollection of an electric football game I received for Christmas in 1950. It had little players with tiny felt feet that gyrated all over the surface of the playing field when you switched on the electricity. However I never got to enjoy it. My father and Uncle Don took over the controls after I unwrapped it and pushed me aside for some very loud yelling and questionable field goals.

(*Photo of me (on left) with friend, Jerry and the fatal hoop.)

Let me explain: When I was a kid growing up in Scranton, each Christmas Eve–and until the wee hours of Christmas morning–there was always an ear-splitting, exuberant party at the Burke household. The Sweeney relatives on my mother’s side were what today’s kids might call “party animals.” They surely enjoyed a good time. The Burkes, with the exception of my father whose booming voice could attract the attention of a deaf moose in northern Canada, were more subdued … at least until their third holiday beverage.

As the evening progressed, the noise level increased until my poor mother would warn my father, “Hush! What will the neighbors say?”

He’d shrug and say, “I’ll go find out. I think most of them are in our living room.”

And it was true. Nobody wanted to miss out on the Burke holiday Christmas party.

Anyway, my electric football game lasted until that first halftime when my disgruntled Uncle Don’s big fist crushed the life out of a player who he considered too slow. The game was called due to the large dent in the middle of the tin field, and, of course, the tragic loss of one squashed, slow-of-foot halfback.

Another year I got a set of drums because my Uncle Don had always talked about his days as a young drummer in a Big Band. He offered to teach me, but by 3AM Christmas morning he was on a roll and I couldn’t get the sticks away from him with a crowbar. He was into his third Gene Krupa wild number when his big shoe went through the bass drum. He patched it with some old duct tape, but it never sounded the same again.

I did get a great football helmet once for Christmas. My Aunt Mary, who had married a rich oilman from Oklahoma, sent it to me. It was an “Official Pittsburgh Steelers” helmet that must have cost a small fortune. It was padded so well that when I put it on I couldn’t hear a darn thing.

My friends liked to bang on it with small sticks to see if I felt any pain. I never did … that was until Big Ronnie, who years later ended up in jail on numerous assault and battery charges, told me to put on my helmet. Then he swung at my head with a Louisville Slugger. The bat split in two. And, unfortunately, so did the helmet. But it caused no permanent damage to my cranium, as far as I can remember.

Thankfully, I did have a place where few would trespass; it was our attic and, for a very short period of time, I could boast that it contained the world’s smallest basketball court.

My brother and I had painted the wooden floor in our partially finished attic to resemble a basketball court foul line and then we put up the small hoop I got for Christmas. Sadly, this dream court didn’t last long. During our very first game, my older brother rushed at me for a layup. I dodged his aggressive advance and put out my foot. He tripped and went crashing through Dad’s new plaster wall and landed on several boxes of priceless antique Christmas ornaments that had been in my father’s family for three generations … until that moment.

Strangely, much like most of my toys, my beloved basketball hoop disappeared the next day.

Vol. 37 No. 4 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter- 2010/11


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