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  • Writer's pictureJeff Kerr

All I Wanted for Christmas

When you were a kid, what did you want the fat man to bring you for Christmas? Or Hanukkah? Or whatever gift-giving holiday your family celebrated? From an early age, what I asked for were books. Not just any books, but specific types of books. Here’s a picture of what I liked to read early on.

Do you notice a trend there? I was a baseball fanatic. My teams were the hometown Houston Colt .45s (just try naming a sports team after a firearm these days!) and, because I was born in St. Louis, the St. Louis Cardinals. A fond early memory of mine is watching Dal Maxvill squeeze the last out of the 1964 World Series on TV with my dad. There was no greater Cardinals fan than my father, who could recite endless facts about his beloved Redbirds, including how many doubles Stan Musial hit in 1947.

Notice that two of these books show the same player on the cover, Cardinal great Bob Gibson. Bob Gibson is still my favorite all-time player. I once saw him not only pitch the Cardinals to victory over the Astros, but he also knocked in most or all (my memory is hazy) of the St. Louis runs. My goodness, the man could pitch, he could hit, he could field. He even played for the Harlem Globetrotters. Look it up!

By the time I was eight, another genre had crept onto my radar screen. Mystery. More specifically, Hardy Boys mysteries. I received this one as a gift in 1965.

The cover of this book drew me in like a Texan to a Whataburger. What is Frank doing in a tree? Who is he spying on? Who are the mysterious figures creeping around in the background? When would I be able to get my hands on the next Hardy Boys book?

At age eight, the Hardy boys seemed impossibly grown up to me. They had adventures. They solved mysteries. They had girlfriends! I couldn’t get enough of them. I planned on eventually owning all 45 books listed on the back cover. The Tower Treasure. The Twisted Claw. The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior. These titles tortured me with their promised excitement. Scanning the list now, I recognize a grand total of four, which is about how many books I ended up owning. Ah well, interests change with time.

Did you write your name on your possessions when you were a kid? What is it about the intoxication of ownership that inspires kids to do that? Here is one of the first pages of my copy of A Figure in Hiding. This was meant to not only keep my younger brother from pilfering my book, but evidently to also allow anyone finding it lying on the ground at the mall to call me and return it. You just can’t take chances.

Of course, writing my name inside the book wasn’t enough. Here is a side shot of the pages, on which I helpfully repeated the information located inside. This was to alert even the most casual observer to recognize that the book belonged to no one but me.

The Hardy Boys books not only constituted great literature, but they also were filled with terrific drawings. Here’s one depicting a pack of “savage guard dogs” chasing after Frank and Joe, undoubtedly intending to rip them limb from limb and devour the carcasses. Notice my own contribution at the side of the page. This was a sketch in a series stretching over multiple pages that formed my own version of a flip book. The idea was to create a cartoon that could be viewed by flipping the book’s pages with one’s thumb. Did you ever do that? No? Then you missed out on some great fun.

Hardy Boys books were, for me, an early introduction to the joys of reading. They took me to places I had never imagined and inspired within me a desire to tell stories of my own. I’m happy to report that the boys are still going strong. You can buy a boxed set of the first five books on Amazon for $21.95. If you’re looking for a gift for a young boy, you could do a lot worse. And if the boy you give a book to wants to turn it into a flip book, let him.

Thanks for reading. Comments encouraged!

If you'd like to read a short story that is a prequel to Jeff's upcoming thriller Refuge, join his email list for a free copy!

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