Slinky. Silly Putty. Gyroscope. In the Cross household as I was growing up, you could be assured that for Christmas, you would receive one – maybe all – of those important special presents from your sister or brother. There were seven of us children growing up in the 60s, and that meant we kids had no money. Yet, for Christmas, everyone bought everyone a present of some sort. In that decade, none of the three top kids presents cost more than 25 cents. For $1.50, you could buy presents for all the siblings. Not bad.
And so we would give and receive these marvelous presents. The Slinky, a coiled thin strip of steel, had probably the shortest life span, since we lived on a slab foundation with no steps for the Slinky to walk down. What was left was to grab the ends of the Slinky and sling it around and around until parts of the coil became intertwined, and bent just a little, and it would take a good hour to untangle the mess, leaving a wounded Slinky that would never perform again. Silly Putty – I looked up the description, and as I suspected, it was a toy containing viscoelastic liquid silicone – it was a blob of stretchy stuff that could also crack apart if you hit it on the table. It also would copy comics from the paper, which after a while turned the Silly Putty from a pink to a grey color with all the ink inside. I’m not sure but that I have Silly Putty from the 60s in one of my boxes. It came in a plastic egg, and you needed to remember to put it back in the egg, because if you sat on it or leaned on it with your sweater on, the silicone would enmesh into your clothing fibers. Mom always loved that…
The champion of the toys, however, was the Gyroscope. It was the most sophisticated, and science oriented of the toys. It consisted of a metal wheel that spun freely inside another metal cage of sorts. When you wrapped a string around the post of the wheel, and pulled it as hard as you could, the wheel would spin, and you would have physics in action. It could balance on your finger, or on the little plastic stand, and if you turned it around with your hands, you could feel the power of an axis, or something like that. Eventually, the gyroscope would slow down, and lose its balance, and go crashing to the floor. It was a great 60s toy. For 25cents.
Over thirty years ago, when I was a young adult, for fun I sent my sister Lisa a present for Christmas – a gyroscope. The next Christmas, I got a present back – it was the gyroscope. For a few years we would alternate getting the gyroscope and opening it up, and then sending the toy back to the other person. Finally, one year – I can’t remember when – Lisa sent the thing to me with a note not to unwrap it, but just wrap my Christmas paper around the package, and send it back the next year. Like I said, I don’t know how many years we have been doing this, but the package has grown to about twice the size of the little gyroscope box.
The exchanging has sometimes included some danger and intrigue. You see, it’s up to the person who receives the present to ensure that the next year, the present will be re-wrapped and sent back. There were some years when frankly I could not remember if I had sent the thing the previous year, or gotten it. One year after we moved, I was certain that it was my turn, and I had lost the toy, and destroyed the tradition. I almost wrote Lisa an apology letter, but sure enough, about two days before Christmas, I received a package from her, and inside was you-know-what! I’m careful now to make sure, when I get the gift, that I put it in the same place in my dresser, in hopes of finding it and sending it along.
The present has become in one sense an archaeological treasure. Year after year, the present was wrapped with a different paper. Some years, the paper was just wrapping, but other years, it took on special symbolism depending on what was happening that year. 911, presidential campaigns, and other important events are wrapped and enshrined in the layers of years of paper that hold the gyroscope.
It’s my turn to send it to Lisa this year. I stumbled across the gift almost by accident a few weeks ago, and have set it on top of my dresser so I can’t forget it over the next couple of months. I’m already planning the looks of the wrapping paper. After all, this is 2020 – a year none of us would have ever suspected to turn out the way it did! Don’t tell Lisa, but I have printed off a full-color picture of the coronavirus molecule that will at least be part of the decorations.
What has been perhaps most fascinating about this little family tradition is that it has lasted for so long. I can honestly say there were years when we communicated very little, and there was barely a tiny string to connect us with each other. Our lives drifted in different directions, and it would have been easy just to leave the present in the drawer and let it go. But we didn’t. Both of us, for some reason, made sure that the tradition continued, and the present was received wrapped and sent back wrapped the next year. It’s odd that I didn’t do this with any of the other five siblings – just Lisa, but it’s a fun and whimsical way to greet the holiday.
This is certainly a year that is challenging traditions. There will be no Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, lots of folks are wary about getting together, voting is different, and a host of other things are having to go by the wayside, like retirement trips and flying in planes. I would say, therefore, that it is more critical than almost any time in our lives before now to make sure that the traditions, and all of those acts and rituals that help us claim the special days of our lives are kept intact. The power of the rituals – even sending a silly gyroscope back and forth – help us keep normal those things that we can, in this time of no-normal. I would challenge you to be the one in your family or circle of friends to safeguard and shepherd those “things” that remind us of what has been, and what we hope will continue. You know I’m going to encourage you to be “intentional” about it all. Certainly we can and should do new things, and respond to our life now with Grace, and creating new ways of moving through the times of our lives, but let’s not give away or set aside the traditions that we can live out, simply because it feels like so much around us has changed or gone away. Be the light to the world. Be the heart of your family. Be the keeper of the flame – and the gyroscope. Maybe, just maybe, you will also want to create a new tradition, that you can claim and live out as your own, or your family’s own, that will last long after this virus is gone. Think about it.
Word for the day: luculent. LUKE-you-lent. This should be an easy one, since it sounds like so many other words we know. First, the root: it arises out of the Latin lux, which means “light.” Actually, I am a graduate of the University of North Dakota, whose motto is “lux et lex,” meaning “light and law.” Not sure what that means, but I learned the word back then. So, in its purest form, luculent means “in, of or full of the light.” More specifically, it’s used to talk about the quality of one’s speech or writing – someone is luculent when they are able to clearly express themselves in these ways. An offshoot of the word is “lucid” which also means clear or en-lightened.
So, try to be luculent today. That may mean, of course, that you don’t use the word that nobody knows. If you are going to be luculent, you could as well be just “clear” or “easily understood,” where luculent will not go.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.