LC Van Savage
It Was The Only Christmas Gift I Wanted
There was only one thing I wanted on Christmas morning of l946. I was eight years old and really knew my own mind, the way eight-year-olds do, and I hounded my parents to get it for me. They kept telling me to send a letter to Santa, but I’d begun to suspect there was something rotten in the North Pole and that perhaps all that Santa stuff was a big whopping falsehood which is what lies were called back in l946.
You see, one summer day when the family wasn’t around and the fireplace was clean, I’d taken the fire screen down and had lain down on my back so I could look up our chimney. I quickly deduced there was no way any fat old man in a thick red and white suit (to say nothing of that big bag of toys dragging along behind him) could slide down that narrow chamber. Maybe a bird or a squirrel could make it, but a man named Santa with a weight problem? I wasn’t so sure.
(Later on that day I got busted because I forgot to check out the back of my shirt and sat in my father’s favorite easy chair and left a nice, black sooty imprint on it. "Elsie Wolcott Scott Richardson, what have you been doing THIS time?" came that same old angry (and bellowed) question. Boy, I sure wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that yelled at me. I’d be living on the French Riviera.
It was a tommy gun. That’s what I wanted for Christmas in l946. A genuine toy tommy gun, just like the gangsters used in all those great old movies I loved to watch over and over back then. (And now.) Only they weren’t old then. Those wonderful old movies were the state of the art back in the twenties, thirties and forties. I especially loved it when a big black gangster car drove by some guy’s bar, usually a friendly but principled neighborhood saloon keeper who’d refused to pay protection money, and a gangster would get out on the running board with his tommy gun and blast that bar owner’s joint while all the patrons ran screaming or ducked behind overturned tables. The camera would pan across the bottles and mirrors behind the bar while all were shattering from the tommy gun’s blast, booze squirting everywhere, bar owner cowering behind the bar begging for mercy and promising he’d pay the monthly fee from now on no matter what it was. That was so cool. I simply had to have one of those guns.
Tommy guns were Thompson submachine guns invented by General John T. Thompson who hoped the gun would help in ending WW I. They were capable of rapidly firing one bullet after another with no need to reload after each shot. A tommy gun shooter didn’t even have to aim—he just had to spray whatever area he chose to destroy and he’d be confident at least some of the bullets would hit their mark. Women didn’t have much use for tommy guns back then, either in real life or in the movies. I believe their favorite method of dispatching irksome folks was a nice little ladylike pearl-handled revolver. That, or an axe.
I begged and begged for that gun, but was told repeatedly that "little girls don’t play with such things." That made me frown. It puzzled me, so I decided it was bunk. Eventually, to placate my parents I did write to Santa Claus and asked politely for the gun, and confess I lied unabashedly about my past year’s deportment. I also promised the usual milk and cookies and decided to not ask him if he was for really real because after all, I wanted that gun very badly and didn’t want to anger anyone, real or fake, who might be responsible for my possibly getting it.
I already had a bride doll and a nurse’s outfit. That was sort of fun and definitely more to my parents’ liking when it came to my possible future career. They’d have much preferred I become a nurse instead of Bonnie Parker. The cape had a red satin lined blue woolen cape and a whole white ensemble, but no doctor’s kit because after all back then, (female) nurses could be nurses but not doctors and my family didn’t want me getting any high falutin’ ideas. (Not to worry. I got my doctor’s kit eventually, and yes, I did.)
Well, the story has a happy ending. There under the tree on Christmas morn of l946 on top of a pile of wrapped gifts lay my beautiful, glorious tommy gun. It was perfect, shiny and black, gleaming beneath the tree’s lights. Oh, I was just thrilled. It was made of tin and had that round drum beneath for the bullets to feed into the barrel. I wasn’t allowed to have the bullets. That would have been pushing it. But this gorgeous gun did have a discreet little crank handle which, when turned, made a nice loud facsimile of a machine gun’s sound. I roared about the house, gunning down everyone, including the dog. I raced outside to show my chums and they obliged me, when I shot at them, by stiffening up, throwing their arms into the air, emitting a horrendous shriek of pain, and falling dramatically dead into the snow. They were great!
I was one happy little girl, up at dawn ratta-tat-tatting nonstop till way after bedtime. (I fired at gangsters beneath my covers.) Sometime after New Year’s however, that little crank mysteriously disappeared from my tommy gun and so, with its noise-making propensities gone, I pretty soon lost interest in it. In l947 I pleaded for a tuba of my very own.
I wish you the merriest holidays, everyone. I hope you get your tommy gun this year, whatever it may be.