The magic of Christmas has been written about by far more interesting writers than I, but I had my own special experience with the season.
Let’s talk Christmas presents.
The best present I ever got from Santa is one that I am 100% certain was never received by another child anywhere in the world.
One Christmas when I was in fifth grade, I wanted something very, very badly. The problem was it wouldn’t be commercially available for another 25 years. I wanted a laser printer.
I wanted to publish my own newspaper. I wanted my own newspaper basically so that I could do the cartoons.
Back then, my big ambition was to be a political cartoonist. In that, I was encouraged by my parents and one very kind teacher, Mr. Edler.
In 1968, as now, there were a lot of really goofy looking men in government: Nixon, Agnew, Lyndon Johnson… a treasure trove of targets for caricature. They were super fun to draw.
Looking back, my dream had less to do with politics and far more to do with embodying characters.
I told my mom that for Christmas I wanted a printing press.
Most parents would have wisely ignored such an impossible request.
When I woke up on Christmas morning in our home in Tarzana and rushed into the living room, there it was.
A real printing press!
Well, actually, it was a used mimeograph machine from a second hand school supply store, an old-fashioned “ditto machine”, with a big round drum and a handle you turned to pull the paper thru, sheet by sheet.
(I seem to recall she spent $40 on it, which seems likely, since I can easily imagine her telling me exactly how much she paid for this treasured gift. We didn’t have a lot of disposable income in those pre-Happy Days times.)
Have you ever heard of a child receiving a mimeograph machine for Christmas? Ever hear of a child even owning one?
Once mastered, the machine worked perfectly. I immediately designed and printed a newsletter for my fifth grade class, hand-lettered and illustrated, and redolent with that glorious alcohol smell, exactly like the spot quizzes passed out to us every week.
It was like GOLD to me. It felt like hacking into the system.
These days with modern laser printers, practically any kid in America can own their own “printing press” with enough fidelity and horsepower to counterfeit foreign currency.
But I’ll never forget the smell of those freshly mimeographed sheets. And I’ll never forget my mom’s act of kindness.
I found many uses for that ditto machine, and it turned out to be a very practical gift to own. I never did become a professional newspaper cartoonist, but I did do cartoons for my school papers and yearbooks. I created a lot of flyers and invitations, including one for “An evening of Surrealism”. (see below)
Getting my words and images into circulation was very fulfilling. That secondhand machine extended my reach into my small community in a meaningful way that, though orders of magnitude smaller than Instagram, was similar in its effect.
So, my question to you: can you fulfill the creative dreams of your children, no matter how impractical?
If you can’t, well, you just can’t. Some kids have pretty high flown desires.
But if you CAN… trust me, they will NEVER forget you for it.
And it will help them move a few steps further down their path as artists.