The Wrong Christmas Gift

It's funny how some of the most ill-matched holiday gifts can later on become the most valuable of gifts that influence us the most in later life!

This is my personal blog entry. It is not the opinion of anyone else, the station nor my family.

Now that that's out of the way, let me state that I was encouraged to share the following as a blog entry.

This week, our Daybreak producer has been interviewing various people about their early Christmas memories, their favorite gift, and so on.  After citing a most memorable gift of a wooden sled with steel rails that I STILL have to this day (I pulled MY kids on it when they were younger), I mulled over the question while driving home.  And another memory popped to mind that was far too long to share on the air.

When was was a kid of 7 or 8, my father worked for a small industrial plant that threw a Christmas dinner/party for the employees and their families. All employees were required to submit the age and gender of the kids attending so that generic gifts could be purchased in advance, wrapped, and that Santa would have behind his throne on stage. Each kid would cross the stage and sit on his lap and tell what he wanted for Xmas. I was no different, I had a list in my pocket.

For whatever reason, our family was running a little late that night, and we had not had dinner nor snacks before arriving at the party. My mother INSISTED that we sit and eat dinner before going up on stage to see Santa. The long line-up of kids had just started, so we sat and ate first.

Fortunately, the line had dwindled and they were about to closed down, when an appeal for the last few kids was made, and we just barely got to go on stage for our turn. However, the problem was as the generic gifts were being passed out, they were never correctly matched to the kids... (boy age 8, Girl 12) and so as the pile dwindled, the few remaining gifts were NOT AGE appropriate.  My elder sister of 12 got some sort of pull metal truck that was far too young for her, and I was given a gift for a boy age 10+.

When I opened it, it was a wood-burning art set for someone older and more skilled. My mother was upset that the company didn't have the appropriate gifts for her kids, but in truth, she set this up by INSISTING that we eat first, instead of going right up on stage. My father told her to drop it.

After a few abortive attempts at home to learn how to use the plug-in Ungar burning tool with changeable cooper tips, I set it aside and forgot about it for years.

Much later, as a kid in late junior high, my high school sister received a few record LP's (Burt Bacharac, Age of Aquarius by the 5th Dimension, etc.) and I received my first Heathkit stereo record player kit.  My father helped me unpack the kit, check that all components were there, and begin assembling the circuit board.  We looked about for a pencil soldering iron to begin soldering.

What I came up with was the wood burning pencil, which had both fat and narrow tips. We put steel wool in the bottom of a empty steel coffee can that was cut in half, and used a pry can opener to pierce 6 'wings' around the sides to bend down and hold the steel wool in place. This formed a nice tool rest when the iron was hot and we could clean the solder tip frequently.

I stayed up incredibly late (until 2 a.m.) for several nights running, building this kit, and when completed, we played the Age of Aquarius as the first song. It worked perfectly. The opening notes of the wandering flute in true stereo separation is something I will remember to the day I die. I was so proud. And it worked on the first attempt!

That was the first of the many Heathkits that I assembled over the next decade...telephones, ham radio gear, rheostats, light dimmers, automatic dialers, more test gear.  In short, that adapted burning tool became my Unger soldering pencil for years and years. I still have it and the Maxwell House coffee can tool rest.

My interest in soldering led to an interest in records and music, to college campus radio,  and radio and TV classes, studies in cable TV, cell phones and more, public affairs producing, PBS programming and management and an interest in TV news, weather and ultimately, my current job.

And it all started because my father's company Christmas party had run out of the right age gifts for the last kids in line back in the early 1960s.

I still have the stereo, the soldering iron and my heathkit radio gear. The phone gear has since been out-striped by technology and retired.  And I still use the soldering pencil for repairs, though I have replaced the copper tip several times since then.

Thank you, Santa!

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