If I close my eyes and let my spirit float back to the Christmases of the 1950′s, I can still smell the fresh balsam scent of our Christmas trees, the aroma of gingerbread baking in the oven, and the stench of stink bombs wafting down the front stairs past the mistletoe kissing ball and into the livingroom.
That was the year my brother got the A.C.Gilbert Fun With Chemistry Set for Christmas. The youngest of four children in our family. He fancied himself a scientist and our parents and grandparents fancied him as the family genius. And the year they bought him his first chemistry set, he didn’t get into a tad of trouble for the stink bombs. They thought he was brilliant. The rest of us were envious as he made various concoctions that smoked and sizzled by mixing various chemicals and thought the various test tubes and eye droppers were most impressive. Ditto the face mask and rubber gloves. As for the chemicals in those little jars–the grownups weren’t worried, but then it was long before there were federal warnings or safety tops to keep little kids away from poisons. No one had thought of that yet.
And besides, we kids had bigger things to worry about at Christmas in 1957. The Russians had launched Sputnik, and it was rapidly circling the earth and the Space Race was on. So the boys were getting chemistry sets and launching homemade rockets.
But we girls were still stuck with dolls, Raggedy Ann and tea sets. We may reminisce glowingly about the Radio Flyer sleds and ice skates and toboggans of the 1950′s but there were plenty more other gizmos under the trees for boys believe me. Joke shops abound in those days, and my brother was the proud owner of the first whoopie cushion in our neighborhood one year. Another year, with his Christmas stocking money, he purchased a metal gadget that attached to his finger and zapped the unlucky recipient of his handshake. A babysitter was treated to an electrical shock when brother figured out how to wire a doorknob to a battery!
My parents smiled. He was clearly creative and destined to do great things, they were certain. And after all, that Christmas with stink bombs had brought joy to their hearts. In fact that stink bomb surpassed the Christmas that Santa brought me a Mr Potato Head Kit and Slinky.
I suspect that buried among Christmas memories of hot chocolate and candy canes, Christmas stockings and Santa..many a baby boomer has unheralded memories of brothers with chemistry sets and whoopie cushions.
No, Norman Rockwell wasn’t at our house that year…..But the memory is still joyful.