The gifts that keep on being given

Back in the 1950s, a foul-weather weekend with "nothing to do" was commonplace for me and my siblings. As young kids we took few lessons, watched little TV (there wasn't, after all, too much to watch), and accepted that family outings to a movie theater or restaurant were rare treats. We most often stayed at home, playing inside with one another and invited friends. We puttered with our stuff, or worked on a project suggested in our childhood bible, the "Make-It Book." We'd try to convince ourselves that our paper-and-cardboard creations looked as good as those illustrated on the well-thumbed pages.

When things really got slow, Mom always had an idea. One of her best, and one we turned to again and again on a raw and rainy Saturday, was trading. We would each search our desk drawers and shoebox stores and solemnly spread our prized possessions out for barter. Junk was not tolerated; trading was a serious affair, not to be cheapened, and certainly not to be rushed.

The air was electric with possibility as we hunched down on the living-room rug and eyed one another's booty. An offer would be made - this for that, or that for those. So attuned were we to the intrinsic as well as invested value of what lay before us that most offers were reasonable, sincere, and accepted. And so passed many a wintry hour or two. The glow of "new" possessions, the wistful tug of letting go (if only to the next room down the hall) lasted even longer.

So often did certain, universally coveted items pass hands that we no longer recalled who had originally owned them. The "treasure chest" was one of these. It was weighty for its size, made of metal, and had a small lock and key. The top was rounded like a real pirate's chest, and a painted pirate's face gazed out from above the opening. Each of us in turn kept very special keepsakes - untradables - within the treasure chest. Over the years the chest took on the aura of a whimsical bank vault.

Another ace in our trade market was the Daisy Dog, a simple plastic snap-together model of our own beagle. Which of us actually made it and sprinkled the dusting of brown, black, and white fuzz over the painted glue undercoat is a moot point of our family history. The dog-replica went from bedroom to bedroom in a way the real animal (whose bed was in the kitchen) was never allowed to do. We were all hugely attached to both - to the real dog and to the replica for the fact that it could be with us when and where Daisy could not.

THERE were other favorite tradables - like David's yellow wind-up race car, which enticed me more than any of the dolls he never accepted in trade; and Barb's "Teddy," who traveled by train to Florida and back with us before our brother was born. But nothing quite measured up to the treasure chest or snap-together model of our beagle.

For years after we'd achieved independence and adulthood, Christmas meant giving up or receiving one of these prized childhood keepsakes. The fragile plastic model, oddly, became all the more beloved as its fuzzy coating patchily rubbed away, and especially so after the real Daisy gently passed on. When money was tight for one of us, and pricey gifts were hard to manage, we could be assured of making a hit by transferring ownership of one of the old tradable treasures.

But gradually, even that tradition has faded, and my sister and I have seen neither of the two premier objects of our childhood affections for years. Which means that a certain Marine Corps lawyer is hoarding these objects down in North Carolina.

Since we will all be back home in Rochester, N.Y., over the December holidays, I think it's time for another trading day. It'll be fun, nostalgic, and we can show our kids one way to spend a winter afternoon without turning on the television. Maybe some of the old excitement can be recaptured. If Dave packs along the treasure chest and the Daisy dog, there's a chance.

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