The Christmas My Mother Pranked Me

As a young adolescent kid in the early 1950s, I was a nut about aircraft and aviation.  I subscribed to Air Progress and even the industry’s journal, Aviation Week.  I had files of pictures clipped from those and other magazines.  I went to airports and air bases whenever I could, in an era when going to airports was not a common thing to do.  On my 50-mile bike ride for by Boy Scout Cycling merit badge, I journeyed from my home in Arlington, Massachusetts to the Naval Air Station in South Weymouth, just to get a long-distance glimpse of a few dark blue radar planes.

Me and models '53

Me and some of my airplane models, May, 1953.

But above all, I made scale model aircraft.  I spent many hours with my balsa wood, Xacto knives, Duco cement, Testors dope, and decals of all kinds.  They were solid models, not for flying but for display.  I especially liked military aircraft, the new fast jets and the plethora of prop-driven planes created over the prior two decades to fight World War Two.  Magazines like Air Progress featured three-view drawings from which one could fashion splendidly accurate models simply by transforming them on graph paper to the desired size, and rendering them in balsa wood.  By checking my file photos, I could refine details and markings.  There were also some pretty good kits by Guillow and Strombecker (Monogram and Revell made plastic kits, of no interest to true scale modelers), but especially Dyna-Model, which featured die-cast metal parts for things like the wheels, propellers, engine nacelles, and the rockets attached to underwings of some fighter aircraft.  The latter models were wonderful fun to make, but quite expensive.  Sometimes I saved up my allowance and walked to the hobby shop about a mile away, in Belmont Center, to buy a kit.  But they were also great gifts for birthdays and Christmas.

I think the Christmas my mother pranked me was 1953.  I would have been 14, and I was in my model-making heyday.  Old enough to have some serious model-making skills, and young enough to enjoy using them, just before girls, driver’s licenses, and (in my case) cool jazz jumbled my priorities.  Our home family Christmas morning routine was well-established.  My younger brother Jim and I shared a bedroom for most of those years, and we’d keep ourselves up as late as we could, listening to Christmas music at low volume on the big short-wave and standard broadcast radio my dad had re-installed in a hand-made modern case that also served as a table between twin beds.  We’d always fall asleep eventually, but we’d somehow wake up by 6:00 a.m. in the midwinter dark.  That was the statutory limit on how early we could wake Mom and Dad to go see what “Santa” left, check whether he’d consumed all his milk and Christmas cookies, and open family gifts, including the ones that arrived in a big box mailed from Kalamazoo.

P38

Lockheed P-38 “Lightning”

This particular Christmas I had asked for a model plane; I’m pretty sure it was the Dyna-Model P-38, the Lockheed “Lightning,” a slick twin-engine WW 2 fighter that looked super-cool because of its twin-boom construction, and was a difficult model to make for the same reason.  I was playing “Santa” that Christmas morning, distributing gifts.  Thus I could assess my different gifts based on their size, shape, and weight.  Like most boys of 14, I was far less passionate about the clothes and other “practical” gifts that were part of our giving and getting.  Even though my mother could and did pick out great shirts for me, a skill she practiced all her life.  So I set aside one soft, flattish rectangular gift for me, that felt for all the world like a heavy winter shirt, with a gift tag written in her inimitable hand.  But where was that P-38?  One gift after the next was too narrow, too heavy, too small.  At last everybody had gotten their gifts, and though I had opened some nice things, no new scale model project.  Finally the shirt was all that was left.  Though I knew what it was, I had a pro forma requirement to open it.  It felt like a shirt, it looked like a shirt, it was a shirt.  Off came the wrapper, but it was no shirt.  It was a big padded mailing envelope instead.  And inside the padding was, of course, the Dyna-Model P-38.

Mom had me dead to rights!  She knew me too well.  She was not known for her sense of humor; one of her tag lines was a disapproving “’Taint funny, McGee,” taken from an old radio show featuring a wife (Molly) much put upon by her feckless husband (Fibber McGee).  The phrase was the midcentury, mid-American version of Victoria’s “we are not amused.”  But that morning she gave us all a good laugh—even me, once I got over the embarrassment of being so cleverly skewered by my own mother.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2019

3 thoughts on “The Christmas My Mother Pranked Me

  1. Looking at you with your air wing…

    Maybe a P-47 Thunderbolt in hand, followed by left-to-right on the steps:
    1. Spitfire (looks like it has a tropical dust filter under the prop spinner?)
    2. Mustang,
    3. F-84 Thunderjet?
    4. McDonnell Banshee or Phantom? Horizontal tailplanes don’t look too high and camberless for either…?
    5. Grumman Hellcat (3-bladed prop, looks like might be radial engine)?
    6. Grumman Bearcat (long legs & 4-bladed prop)?
    7. Grumman F9F Cougar?

    How did I do?

    • Good eye, Andrew! Got most of ’em, despite the difficult angle. #1 is a P-40 Warhawk. #4 is an F9F Panther. #7 is an FJ-2 Fury, which was a Navy version of the F-86. I do have models of the Spitfire and Cougar, though. No Banshee, though I liked that plane.

  2. This great story about the younger you at Christmas was a great one. Good detail and emotion … my eyes are still teary. Thanks!

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