What was your favorite childhood Christmas gift? Mine was a big head, which come to think of it, might say more about me than I intended. The head had big blond hair and pale lips and blond eyelashes. I think I called her Linda, but I can’t say for sure. I know that all the pretty girls at Arnold Elementary, outside of Annapolis, Maryland, seemed to be called Linda, except for the Linda who lived down my street who the older boys called other things.
My Linda, the one I had been asking for all year, came with mascara and blue eye shadow and cotton-candy pink lip gloss. She also either came with scissors, which was the gift’s fatal flaw, or I found some very quickly. Farrah Fawcett-feathered hair was all the rage then, and I would nearly swoon when I passed by the sixth grade girls in my school, impossibly cool Lindas who wore that hair, and those shinny lips and that blue eye shadow and could, with magician-like deftness, twirl their gum around their index finger while managing to keep it from getting it hopelessly stuck in their feathered hair.
The 1970s was a lot things. Wholesome it was not. Outside my house, post-Watergate, post-Vietnam malaise had overtaken the country. Outside, my friend’s parents weere dancing disco and their fathers were snorting cocaine and mothers were coming a long way, baby.
Inside, in my house, my mother cooked every night and read to us every night, and she made Christmases so special.
Like, no doubt plenty of those gum-twirling girls, my Linda aged badly. Within days, she turned into an art-student’s post-modern project. Her hair was jagged. Her lip gloss perpetually smeared. Her mascara hung in clumps and the blue never stayed on her plastic eyelids. But she was perfect while she lasted. And so was that Christmas.
Almost all of us have a version of Linda. I asked a few of our elected officials what their favorite childhood gift was. Some of them emailed their answers back (some of them I edited lightly). Some of them gave them to me on the phone. Some answered the way I asked. Some of them used the question to recount general childhood memories. Two of them, both Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott—both remembered giving more than getting.
All of them say something about inchoate childhood longings, and who we all ended up becoming. All of them say something about the magic of Christmas, through the eyes of children that they were and in many cases, particularly mine, still are. Read on: Continue reading