As a kid growing up in Flint, I was treated to one big gift on the first day of Chanukah, usually a toy gun. From the James Bond attache case, to the Johnny Seven O.M.A. (One Man Army), to the snub-nose revolver and shoulder holster like Mannix had, to the sniper rifle and .45 automatic pistol replicas. I liked my plastic projectiles and the sound of firearm hammer meeting small bits of gunpowder attached to a roll of red paper.
I used those guns when playing war in what the neighborhood kids called “the Field” down the street from my house. We played on “Humpback Hill” in the middle of a large expanse of wild grasses and trees — sledding during the winter and taking on the Nazis in the summer. We were all fans of the TV show Combat and we all wanted to be Vic Morrow.
After a day spent charging up hills and taking down machine gun nests, I kept a few toy guns under my pillow at night to protect my family (Mom, Dad, brother and three parakeets) in case a toy cat burglar broke into the house. Sure, the pillow was a bit lumpy, but jumping out of bed in pajamas (I practiced!) with my Johnny Seven and its machine gun, grenade launcher, anti-tank rocket and armor-piercing missile, I was a formidable, and slightly crazed, sight.
During my early Festival of Lights celebrations, every toy gun received on the first day was followed by successively dwindling amounts of Chanukah gelt. And on the eighth day, I’d get brisket.
Chanukah was based on a revolt, and the reason to celebrate was pretty much the same reason we celebrated all Jewish holidays with one difference — They tried to kill us. They didn’t. Let’s sing, “I Had a Little Dreidel.”
Chanukah was always a happy time, and I almost never thought of converting whenever I was invited over to Dick Sharpe’s house around the corner on Christmas Day to see all the wonderful and expensive toys he and his twin brothers and sister hauled in. Except for the one moment of weakness when he got the scuba diving gear for his G.I. Joe. But my faith held.
As time marched on, the Field was turned into a subdivision called Eldorado Vista, which sounds more like a retirement community on the Texas side of Boca than a place where we happily moved.
As I grew up, the toy guns disappeared from my wish list and from store shelves, too. Real wars were raging and not just in faraway places. Toy guns looked too much like real guns, and it became safer to play virtual war on video games in living rooms than risk a street encounter with a kid who didn’t own “play” guns.
Now I’m old. All those toys are collector’s items, and it’s just as easy to find a real gun in a store than a toy one.
I see frightening things happening in the Mideast, and I keep tabs on my friends and family in Israel to make sure they are safe and know that I am thinking of them and supporting whatever they choose to do to keep safe.
It’s still easy.
All I want for Chanukah is peace.