|Jinny is having minor surgery to improve her eyesight so I will be writing her article for the next 4-6 weeks. We both appreciate your patience and are confident that she will be back writing her article soon...Adele
I listened to a show on the radio the other day where people were asked what they thought was the most memorable gift they ever received at Christmas when they were a child. Everyone they asked not only had a favorite gift, but when they talked about it they did so with childlike enthusiasm and wonder, no matter how many years had passed since.
It made me think about what had been my favorite Christmas surprise and oddly, the gifts that came to mind were those of my brothers rather than my own. Even I thought that was odd.
My brothers and I always made a pact that the first one who awakened would wake up the others and we would all go out to the Christmas tree together. Invariably, this was sometime before dawn in the pitch darkness. We would awaken my parents as well, and they would get out of bed cheerfully despite only having had a scant few hours of sleep. They were great that way. I knew kids who had to sit quietly in their rooms in torment until their parents awakened under the threat of losing all their presents if they went anywhere near the tree; an act that could probably be classified as torture under the Geneva Convention. We would go out into the living room and plug in the tree, illuminating the wonders beneath it's laden bows. The feeling was indescribably thrilling and unmatched by any other experience before or after. I remember my older brother getting something he really wanted that was totally amazing. It was a big, gray Navy battleship called "The Fighting Lady." It sat majestically under the tree with it's bridge touching the branches. It was probably only about 24 inches long, but to us, it seemed immense and terribly impressive. It was an exact replica of the real thing and the guns fired tiny little projectiles. My brother was instantly enthralled as were we all. I don't even remember what I got. I'm sure it was wonderful, whatever it was, but I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the battleship.
I remember one year he got something that he had lusted after all year; "Fort Apache".
Fort Apache had soldiers and Indians and horses and all sorts of fantastic little accessories, like an open campfire and horse's troughs and cannon. He loved it. We all did.
One memorable Christmas one of my younger brothers, who had a tendency to obsessive behavior, asked for a toy called "Bengali". Bengali was a tiger about 8 inches long who could walk and turn his head and roar when you pushed buttons on a little box attached to him by a wire. My brother wanted this toy more than life itself. He went on and on incessantly about Bengali so often that the rest of us finally told him to shut-up about the stupid tiger or we would pound him senseless. Bengali was not just a toy, he was my brother's Holy Grail. When Christmas morning rolled around we had some difficulty awakening him and he was lagging behind us in our rush for the tree and it's bounty. The first thing that all of us saw was the infamous Bengali prominently displayed beneath the tree. The three of us, without bothering to even glance at our own presents, turned in unison and ran to our other sibling who was still stumbling down the hall bleary eyed and in a semi-coma. We grabbed his arms and dragged him to the tree, all the time announcing in near hysterical voices that he had received the very thing for which he had longed with such annoying verbosity for weeks. We expected him to be overcome with emotion, we expected him to react as if he were Sir Galahad, who after long years of trial, sacrifice, and tribulation, had finally discovered the Holy Grail. We expected him to be overcome. All he said was, "That's nice", in a weak and neutral voice.
My brothers and I loved each other a lot. We were very close and other than the normal wrestling around, we were never violent or hurtful to each other. Despite this, I think I can say with no fear of contradiction, that at that precise moment, we all wanted to grab the fabled Bengali and beat my brother over the head with it. It was the most anti-climactic moment I can remember in my entire life and we made certain to tease him about it on and off for the next 10 years.
Bengali turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment all around. He was amazingly lifelike, and for awhile, it was fun to make him walk and roar; but in rather short order, he got kind of boring. You couldn't cuddle him or anything because he was fur over a metal skeleton and there was nothing soft or cuddly about him. My brothers tried making him more interesting by having him maul my dolls, but he was not designed to behave like a proper feline predator he would just knock them over and attempt to walk over them. They tried to make him eat their little green, plastic soldiers, but every time he roared they just dropped out of his mouth.
In the end, it would have been better to just have a stuffed tiger that you could hold in your hand and make pounce on unsuspecting victims. We could have managed a perfectly good roar and some impressive growling as sound effects. I always think of Bengali as the parable for the limitations of technology and the endless possibilities of imagination. Sometimes, the technology inherent in the human imagination is far more rewarding than pushing a button.