New England Gamer
'Twas the Morning of Christmas
In 1996 my parents split up. I won't delve into all the details of the ordeal. Suffice
it to say that it was adorned with all the general trappings of an emotionally
devastating, life-changing event that you could expect. Yelling, crying and of
course, a year later, the awkward affair of separate Christmases with each of my
When Christmas rolled around in 1997, I wanted one thing and one thing only. A
Nintendo 64. You see, while I've since drifted slightly away from big N, back in
the day, I was about as big of a fanboy as there was. In my eyes, if your game
didn't bear the stamp of Nintendo then it was trash. I read Nintendo Power with
almost religious reverence and looked on the N64 as the holy grail of gamedom. I
asked my dad to get me one for Christmas.
For months my nagging persisted. I can't begin to count the times I repeated the
sentence, "Dad can I have an N64 for Christmas?" To which he would respond,
"We'll see." Being a child, and a bit of foolish one at the time, that translated
clearly into "You're totally getting an N64."
By now you should have figured out that that wasn't the case. When Christmas
arrived there wasn't an N64 awaiting me under my dad's tree. To this day I
maintain that my dad could have been a bit more straightforward with me. I wasn't
some starry-eyed boy that believed any longer in the magic of Christmas. To me it
had kind of become more of a nice time of the year capped off by an affectionate
transaction of gifts. If my dad hadn't intended to get me an N64, he should have
told me from the get go.
All of this said, I can't really excuse how I acted that day. Have you ever had the
opportunity to view a child throwing a fit in the middle of the cereal aisle? Well,
on Christmas of 1997 that was me. Only instead of being a pre-school aged
rapscallion you might be able to excuse for such misbehavior, I was a ten year old
While most of the fine details now elude my memories, there are some things I do
remember. My mother drove me and my sister to our father's late Christmas
morning. Christmas that year had already brought in an admirable haul. My Mom
had gotten me Super Nintendo that year, along with several games; and though the
the SNES was well into its twilight at that point, it was still a nice replacement for
the my aging NES.
We arrived at my dad's and after a short, uncomfortable greeting between my
parent's, my mom departed. My dad, happy to see us, led us into the house and
with characteristic goofiness said, "I suppose you guys want to open your
Ushering us into the living room, we settled around the tree. At the base of the tree
was a box, too large to be anything other than my most treasured of gifts. I didn't
go for it first. Despite my excitement, there was etiquette to be followed of course.
Years of Christmas mornings had taught me that the appropriate thing to do was to
unwrap the smaller presents first, and work you way up to the big ones. So I
unwrapped my other gifts.
My dad, having come into a computer over the course of the year, got me a few
games. To his credit he picked well. Likely noticing the hours I'd spent with Wing
Commander 2 over the past few months, he bought me a copy of Red Baron.
Alongside that was Betrayal at Krondor, an RPG that has since piqued some retro
I reached the largest box, my N64, most assuredly. Taking it into my lap, I noted
its weight. The box seemed just right in my hands. My greedy hands tore the box's
paper cocoon to shreds, subconsciously making excuses for the utter lack of
anything Nintendo related inside. With the wrapping paper gone, a plain white box
"Okay," I thought. "He must have put it inside this box."
I opened the box to find a new pair of ice skates. "Now Stew . . ." my father began.
None of what he says remains to me. My thoughts then were simply too consumed
with spoiled-boy rage to care about any of life lessons he might be trying to teach
me. Initially, I held my cool. Like a good boy I smiled and I nodded, but my
makeshift calm was short-lived. I can't recall what triggered my blowup, but at
some point in the evening my immature anger erupted like Mount St. Helens. I
imagine my dad was surprised. I had never been in a screaming match with him,
and haven't been in one since, but I'm pretty sure the walls were shaking that night
from the sheer volume of my pre-pubescent wailing.
In retrospect, I can't think of a single childhood event that has left me more
ashamed. Divorces are rough by nature, and though Christmas 1997 had left some
space between the initial badness of my parents' break up, I doubt that the pain of
it was far from gone just yet. The last thing my dad probably needed was his son
ruining Christmas over a video game.
I eventually got an N64. Fate it seems is an odd mistress. The games my dad
bought me didn't work with our computer. For me this meant a trip to Toys R Us
to return them. While my dad negotiated our teenage sales associate into giving us
a refund without a receipt, I browsed the video game section hovering a bit
spitefully near the Nintendo area. My Dad tracked me down and realizing what I
was looking at asked grimly, "You really want one of those things?"
As if my Christmas tirades hadn't been enough evidence.
Yes, I told him, I did. He frowned at the Mario emblazoned boxes that lined the
shelves. "Dad will put a hundred dollars toward this," he said. "If you want one,
you'll have to pay for the rest." My heart dipped into my stomach, I didn't have
that kind of money. "You'll be losing your allowance for awhile." He added. I
went home that day with an N64 and my first debt. Two weeks later I would finally
get to play it
Why two weeks you ask? Well, karma it seemed was far from done with me. My
dad's TV was old. Not old in modern terms, where two years down the road your
high-def isn't high-def enough. My dad's TV was really old, as in it may have
been around before I was born. As often happens with old technology, it didn't
mesh so well with newer things like my N64. The N64 came with a set of cords,
but our TV had nowhere to stick them. It was two weeks before we made it out to
Toys R Us to pick up an adapter.
Following that, however, was an even worse disaster. One day while I was at
school and my dad was out running errands, his house was broken into and, as you
can imagine, my N64 was one of the things the thieves chose to take. It would be
several more weeks before we would see the insurance money needed to replace it.
After that second fiasco, my luck would turn. I still have my N64 and it works just
as well today as it did out of the box. That said, looking back I retain no small
amount of guilt over the circumstances that led to my getting the then console of
my dreams. Maybe some mistakes were made on my Father's end of things, but no
matter what excuses I was making back then, I was still acting like a regular jerk.
In the least, it embarrasses me to recall what I did and I can only imagine that
someday when I have my own children, karma will revisit me with a Christmas
morning tantrum of my own to deal with. We'll just have to wait and see.
Read more by Stewart Shearer