Monday, December 21, 2020

The best Christmas gift I got as a kid? That's easy.

I spent 1982 longing after a Commodore 64 computer.

I tried to find ways of saving up for one, but for most of that year I was 12 years old and in no position to earn the hundreds of dollars it would take to buy a C-64 and a floppy disk drive.

I put it at the top of my Christmas wish list with no real expectation it was going to show up under the tree.

Until it did.

I was pretty sure my premiere gift was going to be The Generals, an admittedly cool electronic board game that had come out a couple of years earlier. And I would have been fine with it.

My mom and dad, tricky as they were, had me believing that was what I was getting while going out and secretly finding a Commodore 64 for me. I'm not even sure where they got it. I'm guessing Sears.

Anyway, that little computer (laughably slow and weak compared even to today's low-end smart phones) became a huge part of my life over the next few years. I played games with friends. I learned to program in BASIC. I procured a modem and got online for the first time ever in 1985.

Back then, going "online" meant calling local bulletin board systems (BBSs) and exchanging messages with other people. The Internet existed, but I sure had never heard of it.

I should note that saying I "procured" a modem for my Commodore is a little misleading. That 300-baud device was stolen from the local BEST store by a group of kids with whom I went to school who were known simply as "The Vandals." They weren't sure what to do with it, so one of them gave it to me.

I chose to remain officially ignorant of the modem's origins, but I had a sneaking suspicion where it had come from. The guy who gave it to me confirmed its status as stolen merchandise only years later.

My obsession with the Commodore faded once the late 80s arrived and I had bought an IBM XT. From there it was one step after another up the technology ladder...more processing power, more storage, more features. The Commodore was put back into its box and relegated to the attic.

I was reunited with it earlier this year when we were cleaning out my mom's house. It was fun to see it, and I could have taken it home, but I chose not to. For one thing, I have a full-fledged Commodore emulator on our home desktop computer that completely simulates the original C-64 experience. For another, I hadn't kept any software for it, so its features would be limited.

And then there's simply the fact that you can't ever really go home again. The Commodore and I had had our thing, and we had both moved on.

Or at least I did. I have a feeling it wouldn't have minded playing one more game of Jumpman or Law of the West with me.

I received a lot of great gifts as a spoiled youngest child growing up. But nothing ever beat the surprise and delight of that little computer.


  1. The Vandals... now that brings back memories. Or maybe it doesn't. I'll neither confirm nor deny any knowledge of their supposed existence, because, in the immortal words of Kent "how would I know?"

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