It was 1965, the year of the aluminum Christmas tree and the revolving colored lights. Everything was changing in my hometown, Clayton, NY. We got a stop sign at the corner of James and Riverside Drive. My brothers wore their hair long and my sisters pinned up their skirts on the way to school. We were receiving Western Union telegrams with black stripes across the top for our neighbors with sons in the Vietnam War. After my father hand delivered the telegram he came home and smoked alot. We knew everything about the war because my father had been in the Second World war. He was a foot soldier and a flamethrower in the Pacific and the war memories followed my father and us around like an old dog.
It was 1965 and I wanted a Bendable Barbie for Christmas. Mattel, Barbie’s parents had figured out how to give her moveable joints covered with soft pliable rubber skin. Any girl lucky enough to have one could pose her in shapes like professional, jaunty or playful. Bendable Barbie was being sold in major stories like Sear’s, where my father was selling sewing machines. When I asked him for one he said, “I don’t know Toots. That’s a pretty expensive doll.”
I went to bed on Christmas Eve knowing I might get a Bendable Barbie or I might get something practical or worse, beige. It had happened before. I awoke before anyone else and padded down the beige vinyl carpet runner. Mom had turned off the revolving colored lights so the aluminum tree looked like something you put in the oven. I scanned the presents for one the size and shape of a Bendable Barbie. I did not see one. “Who cares?” I told myself. I saw them as I turned to walk away. Twenty or thirty Bendable Barbie’s all lined up against the base board in the living room; the vivacious blond, the tempestuous red head, and the black haired vixen with pierced ears. When I got closer though I saw that there was something wrong with each one of the Barbie’s. One had a cut in her skin. Another had an ugly gash across her rubber skinned knee. Another had a hole where the metal joint of her elbow poked through. Each one of the Barbie’s was gorgeous but grotesque. This present was beautiful and beige. But I understood why they were here. The Barbie’s had been in a war and I knew all about that.
When my parents padded down the beige vinyl carpet runner about an hour later I ran to my father and exclaimed, “I love them! Thank you for my Barbie’s.”
“Ya like ’em Toots?” he smiled. “I got ’em just for you. They cost me a buck.” Then he threw me up into the air and caught me. I wrapped my arms around him. He smelled like VO5 and Camels. As he drew me in he whispered, “Merry Christmas, Toots. Merry Christmas.”