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Memories of a ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ Christmas

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Only in Carson City could “The Beverly Hillbillies” trigger a fond holiday memory.

Returning to the Nevada Appeal newsroom one day last week, I found myself looking into the eyes of Max Baer Jr. as I turned the corner into my office. Through the window separating my office from the one next door, I spied Max in an animated conversation with one of our reporters.

Mostly, from what I could hear through the wall, it was Max talking and the reporter listening.

A few moments earlier, I had walked past the Toys for Tots distribution center, which had set up shop in the Appeal building this holiday season. Call it a convergence of Christmas present and Christmas past, but the combination of Jethro Bodine sitting in the next room and the sight of parents and kids collecting toys retrieved a very deep holiday memory.

As Max carried on in the adjacent room about his Beverly Hillbillies Casino project, all I could think of was a present I received during a mid-1960s Christmas when I was perhaps 7 years old.

That was the year Santa left behind one of my most enjoyable childhood holiday gifts – a genuine toy replica of the ol’ jalopy featured in “The Beverly Hillbillies” television program. Although I was partial to rough and tough Tonka-type trucks at the time, the antique jalopy became my pride-and-joy possession for months.

Besides being rather large for a toy truck, it had lots of removable plastic accessories (such as tools and the barrels strapped to each front fender) and a crank under the engine grill. I think several twists of the crank propelled the Clampetts’ family vehicle.

The fact that I can recall the toy at all illustrates the power Christmastime can wield on a kid. My dad was a blue-collar worker and, with a brood of five boys and one girl, the gift-giving season annually tested my mom’s and dad’s ability to provide a happy holiday for everyone.

As one of the youngest, I always managed to do OK. It helped to have a cadre of generous grandparents, aunts and uncles living nearby to ensure my siblings and I had at least one substantial gift.

I don’t ever remember coming up empty when foraging under the tree on Christmas morning, but that didn’t mean my four older brothers wouldn’t mercilessly taunt me in the weeks leading up to Christmas – especially with the old naughty-or-nice routine.

Any time I would misbehave between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my brothers constantly pointed out my behavior could easily translate into the “dreaded” bag of coal for Christmas. Mind you, this was at a time when our home was still heated by a coal furnace, and I was well acquainted with the properties of a lump of hard, black carbon.

Several times, my brothers even went as far as wrapping up a bag of coal, attaching a “To: Peter/From: Santa” card and placing my “present” under the tree a few days before Christmas. For days, I would eye the package, mortified that there would be no other gifts to follow by Christmas morning.

Not surprisingly, I was on my best behavior as Christmas neared. Even the pluckiest kid doesn’t want to tempt fate when it comes to Santa’s visit on Christmas Eve.

I think my folks were just far enough ahead of the bill collector to avoid the need for the services of Toys for Tots or similar programs. I’d call it at arm’s length, though.

So, while I haven’t been able to get “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme song out of my head this week, I also can’t forget about all the parents and children I’ve watched coming through our building to visit the Toys for Tots distribution center. For many families, there’s a palpable stress to the annual struggle to provide presents for youngsters, who only understand that Christmas and gifts go hand in hand. They haven’t quite grasped the concept of car payments, covering the monthly rent and paying for groceries.

Locally, the holiday spirit is perpetuated by hundreds of volunteers involved with Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army, local holiday food drives and adopt-a-family programs Ð and by the thousands of area residents who donate money or goods.

Despite the generosity of our community, many of the needs for clothing, food and toys are not fully met during the holiday season. That’s something to keep in mind next year when given the opportunity to contribute, whether it’s spare change in the bucket next to the ubiquitous holiday bell ringer or a donation toward holiday meals or clothing.

Don’t underestimate how far your good fortune will go toward creating pleasant holiday memories, even if it means someday listening to a sappy story about a toy that, ultimately, enriched the creators of one very inane television program.

Peter Kostes is associate publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at kostes@swiftnews.com or 881-1271.