Another Christmas brings another round-the-clock marathon of A Christmas Story with Ralphie, Flick, Schwartz, the Old Man, the “major award,” and, of course, the Red Ryder BB Rifle. Since the film’s release in 1983, Americans have come to know Ralphie and his family and friends well.
A Christmas Story became a modern classic almost from the moment it came out in 1983. Within 3 years, Ted Turner bought it up and started showing it annually around the Thanksgiving weekend. In 1996, the movie settled in for its berth in the holiday viewing season. Now, we have holiday marathons with stations endlessly running Ralphie’s story about his childhood Christmas and his desire for the now-infamous “Red Ryder BB gun with a special Red Ryder sight and a compass in the stock with a sundial.”
For me, the movie marked the return of an old friend. See, me & Ralphie share a bit of a back story. My father had run across the marvelous book, In God we Trust (All Others Pay Cash), originally published in 1966 sometime around 1970 0r so. My dad found this collection of short comedy nostalgia pieces by Jean Shepherd hugely entertaining, and I remember him laughing loudly often he read.
He especially loved the Red Ryder story and would call out gleefully, “You’ll shoot you eye out, kid!” with a gleam in his eye long before Peter Billingsley heard that mocking, (yet prophetic) refrain in the movie. I read the book, too, and like Dad, I found these stories, many first published in Playboy magazine or performed on Shepherd’s radio show, utterly hilarious.
So I met Ralphie at least a dozen years before they made the movie. We became buddies.
Such good buddies, in fact, that I shared his story with my friends. One fellow student, Daniel, a senior in my speech class, asked to borrow the book for an upcoming assignment, a humorous speech. Neither of us took the class too seriously. For me, it was no real challenge, and he simply didn’t care at all since he was graduating. For one early assignment calling for a visual aid, he had used a Playboy centerfold, covering the “naughty parts” with large black squares. The teacher was not amused and gave him an “F” for an inappropriate visual aid. That amused Daniel immensely.
Daniel loved the Jean Shepherd stories, but rather than use the Red Ryder story as I suggested, he chose the one where Ralphie accidentally scatters the lug nuts along the road while his dad is fixing a flat and says, “Oh, fudge,” though as you know from the movie — “only I didn’t say ‘fudge’.” So, Daniel, just kinda countting down his high school days tells the story, hits the punch line, and gets a big laugh. And another “F” for referring to profanity, even though he never actually used any profanity.
Ah, yes, the logic of high school.
So every Christmas when I see that movie again — and again and again some years — I think back to Dad laughing and grinning, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” and how even saying “fudge” could get you in trouble in high school in the 70s.
BONUS: Here’s a clip of Jean Shepherd reading the short story, “Duel In The Snow, Or, Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid” on his radio show on Christmas Eve 1974 — back before Ralphie hit the Big Time.