In the early years of the era of Christmas entitlement for children of the middle class, I wanted one thing and only one thing for Christmas.
I didn’t get it.
Television was still working its way into being the dominant social force of American culture. My parents, having been raise in the depression, were not clued into the new reality. Christmas was no longer about religion, family, mistletoe, sleigh rides or pictures from Currier and Ives, or even Norman Rockwell. Christmas had been transformed by a cabal of Baby Boomer greed and Madison Avenue into a season where children had to get what they wanted – or else.
What I wanted (as you may have surmised from the title,) was Marvel the Mustang. As the clever theme song told me, he was “almost like real.” The grainy black and white (at least on our set,) TV advert mesmerized me during my scheduled viewings of Bozo the Clown and Romper Room (for some reason, I don’t think they sponsored Captain Kangaroo.) For weeks, I waited breathlessly for the commercial’s opening frames, so I could run and drag my parents to the TV console and show them what I REALLY wanted for Christmas.
As Mom stayed at home with us kids, it didn't take long to show her the ad, but her response was the ominous, “We’ll have to check with your father.”
The problem was that Dad didn’t get home until around 6:30 each night, and kids afternoon programming gave way to boring adult stuff around 5. How was I ever going to show my father this advert? I asked him to take our portable (it only weighed 45 pounds,) 10 inch black and white TV to work with him to see the ad.
He refused without comment.
Back then, Dads could do that – a right they seemed to have lost in more modern times.
As Christmas neared I despaired. The week before the great event, Dad came home early to pack the family into the station wagon and get our annual live (though dead) Douglas fir.
“Headley! Into the station wagon! It’s time to go.”
Bozo was talking to a kid who was about to have his name transformed into a picture by an artist (who usually cheated in my opinion.) “C’mon commercials,” I pleaded to our brown mahogany god of broadcast media.
“Headley,” my father said (less patient this time,) “we’re waiting for you!”
“And now, kids,” Bozo said with a twinkle of Christmas magic in his eyes, “here’s a message from our sponsors.”
Dad had a hold of my arm, under normal circumstances a frightful thing, but I was filled with the spirit of Christmas greed and had the strength of 10 5-year-olds. “Wait, Dad!” I shouted. “Here come the commercials!”
“The commercials?” he said puzzled. The imbecility of his youngest son’s statement temporarily stopped him in the process of prying me from the temple of television broadcasting.
“Marvel the Mustang,” sang the ad, “he’s almost like real. Just saddle him up, with spurs on your heel.”
“That’s it!” I screamed in rapture!
“What?” asked Dad, who in retrospect looked more than a little concerned for my mental state.
“That’s what I want for Christmas!” I shouted triumphantly.
The power of my passion drew my father’s eyes to the screen, we watched together as happy children bounced with forward mechanical movement on five pounds of hinged molded plastic. Silently, though ecstatically, I thanked Santa, Rudolph, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Bozo, and even Jesus in case he might have lent a hand as well.
The commercial came to its joyous end, as beautiful as the first time I saw it, but more meaningful as I was sharing it with my loving father – who also controlled the purse strings in our house.
Tears in my eyes, I stared up at my Dad rapturously. Surely he could see how Marvel the Mustang was the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts. Dad pursed his lips – a sign of thought, of consideration.
“Headley,” he said, “how old did those children look in that commercial?”
“I dunno,” I said, “maybe four?”
“More like three,” said Dad. “You’ll be six in March. You’re too old for that toy. You’d break it if you sat on it.”
In this age of eBay, I have on occasion searched Marvel the Mustang. Once in a while I find one, though rarely in working condition. Most of them were ridden to ruin by children that couldn’t remain small enough. Like tiny Puff the Magic Dragons, they lost their roars as thousands of Jackie Papers grew into their school-aged years.
My love/lust relationship with television advertisement was just beginning. There were many more toys I forced my bewildered Dad to view over the following years.
But Marvel the Mustang remains special. First love – even unrequited, never completely goes away.
FB friend AA showed me how silent monks stage their Christmas cantata.