A Christmas Memory

I believe it was Calvin (not the theologian, but the one who hangs with a tiger named Hobbes) who said that “people who are nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children”. In that spirit, I re-purpose this post which many people told me they enjoyed when it first appeared. This is a holiday experience that smarted at the time but amuses me (and my siblings) mightily in retrospect. Merry Christmas to all!

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The year was 1974. As the nation reeled from Watergate, President Nixon’s resignation and the rise of disco, a wonderful new Christmas special gave us all hope for the future.

It was “The Year Without a Santa Claus“, and it electrified the grade school crowd (and many of their parents) primarily due to two show-stopping dance numbers.

Snow Miser and Heat Miser! The next day at school, everyone was running around the playground signing “BA DUM DUM DUM….TOOOOOO MUCH!”

(Incidentally, it was a culturally important moment as well: Heat Miser and Cold Miser were the first openly gay characters to star in a Christmas special since that dentist kid with the swoop haircut in Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer).

Arguments broke out across my grade school about the lyrics of the songs. Because no one had a VCR, we all had to go on our faulty memories. Come next Christmas, I would show that smart-mouth Billy Petoski that it’s “I’m Mr. Sun” not “I’m Number One”! We nursed such grudges like love affairs, expecting vindication 12 months hence.

Excitement grew throughout the year as we awaited the next broadcast. The anticipation became excruciating in early December when TV Guide announced our joyous reunion with the Misers would occur that coming Thursday! Huddled in front of the television 20 minutes in advance so as to take no chance of missing anything, I turned the dial (which went from 2 to 13) to the channel in question and prepared for my long-delayed reward.

And then, it began “I’m Mr. Snow Miser, I’m Mr….” Snow. As in snow all across the television screen. The television signal was gone on all channels.

This is as good a time as any to apologize to my Creator for the words that then escaped my young mouth, particularly given the time of year.

At least my school mates would be able to tell me what happened, I thought. But no. Sad-eyed children trudged into Second Ward Grade School the next day, all telling of similar trauma. Snow and ice had somehow damaged a television transmission tower or wire or whatever other arcane device adults were supposed to use to give us the TV we deserved. None of us got to watch the Misers, and would not be able to do so again for a full year. Agony.

But, whippersnappers, no such trauma is yours. Not for the Misers nor for virtually any other treasured TV or movie moment. It’s all there on YouTube, Vimeo and the like. Enjoy, and realize how blessed you are.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.