Ok, where was I before I was interrupted by life…Hmmm seems that Fish, Fin and I were in Fish’s basement sucking down an illegally obtained Old Style and some unauthorized smokes after being chased by the Green Bay Police Department and one very irate owner of a really cool Trans Am who now had to replace his windshield.
An uncomfortable change came over us as our laughter was absorbed into the concrete walls of Fish’s basement and our “Devil may care attitude” was replaced with a bit of nervous tension. We were all thinking the same thing, who saw us? Does anyone know Fin threw the snowball? Will the cops be able to track us in the snow? Is our Christmas over? Are we going to jail? Then, Fish stood up, grabbed the empty beer can and said “Who wants to see my presents?” as he headed toward the stairs to the kitchen. Our worries about our future were quickly dispelled by that one simple question. Fin and I glanced over at each other grinned and raced to catch up to Fish.
We caught up to him at the top of the stairs and we waited impatiently as he crushed the beer can and stuck it in the recycling garbage bag that was under the sink which seemed to be overflowing onto the floor and mixing in with all the cleaning products his mother kept there. “Hey, Fish, we could get at least five bucks for that bag if we took it to the scrap yard on Broadway.” I said.
“Yeah and that would pay for some smokes and a six pack. I bet we could get some girls over for a nice party if we did that.” Fin chimed in.
“Nah guys, my mom keeps a real close eye on these cans and the aluminum foil. If we took it she would notice and it would be my ass.” Fish shot us down quickly. “Besides she uses that money to take us to the movies and get us popcorn. I aint gonna mess with that or my sisters being pissed at me for a month if we did take this bag.” He closed the door and stood up. “C’mon, let’s go in the garage.”
As we entered the garage from the chill of the evening hit us dead in the face, arms and any other exposed parts of our bodies. We had all left our coats, hats and sweaters in the warm, smoke filled basement below. As Fish fumbled for the light switch in the dark Fin asked “Is this gonna take long? It’s cold out here and my coat is downstairs?”
“We have to go into the rafters. So, yeah it is gonna be cold and it’s going to take a while so go get your coat and grab mine too. Skip and I will set up the ladder” Fish stated
“Grab mine too Fin.” I yelled as he disappeared down the steps.
By the time Fin got back with our coats Fish and I had gotten the ladder set up in the garage and Fish had pushed the access panel to the rafters aside. As Fin handed out our coats, Fish swore us to secrecy and reminded us that we were blood brothers and not allowed to rat each other out. Then he disappeared up into the rafters.
By the time Fin and I climbed up the ladder and crawled into the rafters Fish had managed to surround himself with several black trash bags of presents that seemed about to burst. Each bag had a piece of tape with a different name of one of the Minnow children on it.
Fish grabbed the bag with his name on it and started pulling out packages that had been wrapped in a multitude of Christmas paper. Some of the paper had Santa’s on it, some had snowmen and some even had Christmas lights. All the colors were stunning and amazing in the dimly lit rafters of the chilly garage. Fin and I could not take our eyes off of Fish as he slowly pulled the magically wrapped boxes from their hidden resting spot.
“C’mon Fish! Stop goofing off and show us what you got.” I demanded
“Yeah cat, get moving. What’s gonna happen if we get busted by your Mom or one of your sisters?” asked Fin.
“Relax guys, Mom is working and my sisters have already done this and if they say anything about me I will rat out them.” Was his reply.
Once he had all the wrapped packages out and piled in front of him he pulled out his pocket knife and carefully opened it. We all had the same knife a twin blade Buck and the only difference in them was that we had all used my wood burning iron to carve our initials into the wooden handles so we would not get them mixed up. Fish then grabbed a square box and started to gently slice the taped ends and slowly unfold the paper. Once he had gotten the tape sliced he showed us the box.
He held the box out in front of us, it was black with the words “Bell” and when he opened the box and pulled out the gift inside it was a Pith Motorcycle helmet with some custom flames painted on the top. The flames started at the spike that was on top of the helmet and worked their way down to the edges of the helmet. It was amazing. I wanted one!
“This is for when my dad and I go riding in the summer.” Fish explained “And, I will be able to use it when I ride the dirt bikes too.”
“I gotta get a motorcycle so I can get a helmet like that.” Fin cried out jealously.
“Man, your gonna have all the chicks screaming for you Fish.” I said.
“Yeah” he said “and the flames are custom too. I don’t know where my Pop found a Pith helmet but it is sweet.”
“What’s next?” I asked.
“Well most of the boxes are clothes but how bout I show you the BB gun?” he offered.
Fin and I nodded as Fish re-wrapped his new motorcycle helmet and tape the ends shut. Then he took a long thin box that had Christmas light wrapping paper on it and performed the surgery on the ends of the package. Then he pulled the paper away to reveal not just any BB gun but a Crossman Pumpmaster BB/Pellet gun! The one I had wanted but instead received a Daisy Lever Action Repeater which was a great gun but it did not have any control over the velocity or force of the BB’s like the Crossman Pumpmaster and the Pumpmaster also shot pellets, something the Daisy could NEVER DO! When Fin and I saw this beauty of American ingenuity we started to drool.
“That’s the one I asked my Mom for!” Fin cried.
I was speechless. I had nothing. I was so jealous I couldn’t say anything. I just stared and reached out my hand and slowly ran it over the box, caressing the picture of the gun on the cover that was being held by a kid with a huge grin on his face. A grin that said “Ha HA!! Don’t you wish you were me? Holding this weapon and taking aim at whatever comes into view?” I wanted to burn that kid on the box!
“Man” Fish said, “I can’t wait till we can all get together with our guns and go get shoot some rabbits or squirrels by the soccer fields.”
“I gotta get one first!” Fin exclaimed.
“Ok, put it away Fish before Fin or I steal it from you right now.” I said.
A few minutes later Fish had the gun re-wrapped, taped and stored back in the bag.
“Ok, this is the last one guys. The remote control cars and not any kind. These are wireless. No tether.” He said as he put his Buck to good use on the last box.
When he showed us the box we were not disappointed. The cars were a twin set of red and blue Corvette Stingrays. They operated on two “C” cell batteries each and the remotes operated on 9 volt batteries. The picture on the box had the cars racing through some miniature traffic cones with smoke coming off the wheels and skid marks on the tiled floor. The box SCREAMED coolness!
“I asked for remote control cars this year.” I said to no one in particular. “I hope I get something even half this nice.”
“I got mine for my birthday.” Fin stated. “But they weren’t’ ‘Vettes. Fish, you got lucky this year. Makes me wish Christmas was here now. Let’s make a pact. We all meet at my house Christmas afternoon and you bring your cars and gun, Skip will bring his and we will have a blast in my basement till the batteries die then we can go out into the fields and scare up some rabbits.”
“Sounds good to me. How bout you Fish?”
“If I can get out.”
Fish wrapped up the cars, placed the boxes back in his bag and we helped place the bags back where they belonged. Once back down in the garage we stored the ladder away and headed back to the basement to talk about what sort of races we were gonna have with the cars and what sort of animals we were gonna hunt once the weather got warmer.
On the walk home Fin and I talked about how lucky it was that Fish and his sisters had a Family with a full set of parents that loved them and were around when they needed them. We really didn’t talk about the presents that much, just about having a Dad to show you how to ride motorcycles, shoot guns and just hang out with. Looking back now a little over 30 years later, I believe that Fish’s greatest gift that Christmas was his Family.