But the Best Gift Cost 65 Cents

Offering free layaway, Mr. Ames begs me to take advantage of his Christmas toy sale. His catalog offers, also, a radio-controlled dump truck, a megabucks computerized raceway, many other things, and a special on batteries not included with other gifts. Merry Christmas, all, and joy to the world! I do not find a Dumping Sandy in this season's batch, or for that matter and the record, a "kawpot."

Were I able to find a Christmas kawpot in the treasures of Mr. Ames, I would buy one for my son, who has put away childish things. I could do no more than remind him that in the days before Mr. Ames, a kawpot was his (our son's) most treasured Christmas toy. He was not really deprived as a child of the Great Depression, but we lived as frugally as anybody, and I think our young man expected little under his first Christmas tree. I fooled him good!

I had noticed, as Advent wound down, that Hickey Nicholson, our principal storekeeper, had foolishly laid in a bunch of electric-train stuff, and that because of the extreme stringency of money, nobody had bought any. I considered this, and I concluded that if nobody bought any electric train stuff through Christmas Eve, I might catch Hickey disposed to trade. Possibly this was not wholly because I would like my son to have an electric train, but because in my youth I had not had one. Not a real one.

One reason for this deficiency is overpowering: Our home had no electricity. So I did have a wind-up, clockwork choo-choo and nine sections of tin track. It made a total railway system on one rug that was somewhat less than 500 miles long.

I had fun with it, but kept losing the wind-up key, and if I wound it too much it would jump the track. So I hoped Hickey Nicholson would be stuck with a Depression surplus nobody could afford. To find out I stepped into his store at 11:45 p.m. on Dec. 24 with a $10 bill prominent in my outstretched hand. "Santy Claus, you old goat," I said in an affable approach, and Hickey said, "I'll take it."

A couple of replacement locomotives and decades later, that railroad is still serving the public. It has lots of additional trackage, switches, and crossing gongs, and people standing about a depot that lights up when the train comes in. It is brought forth and set up once a year and has freight cars now as well as a transcontinental express with an imported dining car that serves Kaiserschmarren when it reaches Milwaukee. (Find a German who will explain that to you.) A radio-controlled dump truck, you say?

The kawpot came a few Christmases later. The lad preferred it to all other toys and would sit on the floor entranced as he took it apart and put it together. It was nothing more than a two-cup aluminum coffeepot that came from a forgotten predecessor of Mr. Ames. It had five parts.

Nobody counted, so we never knew how many zillion times the thing was taken apart and put together. The lad would put up a fuss if you took his kawpot away so he could take his chow. "Kawpot, kawpot!" he would shout. Giving that kid a 65-cent percolator spared me untold dollars for expensive childhood gifts. He didn't want anything else, and when we'd set up the electric train at Christmastime, he'd put his kawpot in a Union Pacific gondola and give it a ride to Montana.

As for myself, it is true I did not have an electric train as a boy, but I was fortunate to have a Dumping Sandy. It was not controlled by radio, but it ran by itself, and did for many good years.

If you don't remember, a Dumping Sandy dumped sand. The thing had a hopper on a sort of Erector-set tower, maybe three feet tall, and a little car on four wheels that ran up and down on a track. At the top of the track, the car tripped a chute that filled the car with fine white sand provided with the purchase. When filled, the car's weight took it down the incline on the track, and at the bottom the car tipped up and discharged its sand into a bowl. Then a weight on a string brought the empty car back up the track to be loaded again. So long as I kept sand at the top, the thing would dump sand by itself. It was a lot of fun if you didn't have a kawpot or a radio-controlled dump truck.

THERE was one negative thing about my Dumping Sandy. It leaked sand that had a way of showing up all over the place. We'd find it in the peanut butter, and in our sneakers, and my mother hated the thing. She said it might be her imagination, but she felt gritty all the time. In summer, I could take my Dumping Sandy outdoors, where sand could be swept off the porch. But in winter and on stormy days my Dumping Sandy came to be outlawed in the house.

Another thing: The sand that got in the peanut butter, or under the parlor rug, diminished my supply of sand to that extent, and if I played dumping sand I'd run out of sand. The thing wouldn't work on just any old kind of sand, either. It had to be fine, like sea-beach sand, so it would flow for the automatic loading and unloading.

So we had a volunteer neighborhood messenger service that kept looking for good sand for my Dumping Sandy. Anybody going to a beach would bring back a pail of sand. Shortly we had a back shed full of boxes of sand, and what with this and what with that, my mother finally put her foot down. It was a merciful termination. I guess I'd outgrown my Dumping Sandy. I don't know what became of it. Too bad, as I could show it to Mr. Ames and he could hitch it up to a radio.

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