Growing up, Christmas was always an amazing time of year for so many reasons. We weren’t wealthy but we were certainly blessed — there were always plenty of gifts and parties. And the gatherings were always punctuated by some airing of grievances (yes, Festivus) usually correlating with the partaking of a little too much holiday cheer. Ultimately, without failure, one clan or another, would end up abruptly leaving our grandparent’s Xmas get together in tears over some slight. “Get in the car kids, we’re leaving!” was a familiar holiday refrain. The drama was real, but it always passed quickly (usually by the time we got home) and it was part of our annual ritual. I loved it.
One of our other traditions was the Kiwanis Club Christmas party. For a number of years, my Grandfather would take me, my siblings and cousins to their annual Christmas banquet. We would put on our Sunday best, pile in his cavernous, cold-leather clad Lincoln, with an admonishment from our parents to “behave your grandfather, or else,” and head to the palatial HoJo’s in East Greenbush where we would get a gift from Santa and order anything we wanted to eat off the menu. (I loved the fried clam plate.)
My grandfather was the grand poohbah of the Kiwanis Club for a while, which made our attendance all the more intriguing and in a way, regal. We were at the height of East Greenbush society. Which is why it was always so baffling to me that every year Santa gave us a Hess truck.
Now, I know the Hess truck has become something of a collectible over the years, but I never quite got why it was (or is) a gift for kids.
I wondered, “What fun is it to play gassing up the local Hess station?” What was my grandfather thinking, let alone those people at Hess!
Hence, the mystery of the Xmas Hess Truck.
As a nerdy and somewhat inquisitive kid, I thought long and hard about this perplexing issue.
After much deliberation, I surmised that it was an easy gift to pickup. After all, there were a lot of Hess stations in our neck of the woods, and back in the day, when people outside of New Jersey had their gas pumped for them, you actually could multi-task. So, I imagined that my busy grandfather had a few minutes to run inside and grab a bunch of pre-wrapped Hess trucks. Pre-wrapped was also key.
My grandfather owned his own plumbing – contracting business and was always working so I thought it was cool that he took even a few minutes to grab us a gift. And from a guy who lovingly referred to us grandkids as “boobs,” “jackasses,” “morons” and “maroons” it was actually quite a statement of affection.
That explained “the how we came to have the Hess truck, but not the why.”
I didn’t know for sure, but I had my theories. My grandfather, grew up very poor and hard. While he had a great sense of humor, he wasn’t exactly the warm, fuzzy type and I could never imagine him playing with toys. The only other “toys” I remember getting from him was a hatchet and lawn jarts – which should give you the picture. So I always thought, maybe a gas tanker is as close to his idea of a toy that he would ever appreciate.
Maybe…but over time I developed an alternate theory. The Hess tanker was also oddly reminiscent of what we called the “honey wagon.” If you’ve ever had your septic tank pumped out, you know what I’m talking about. With its huge tank, long detachable hoses and backup warning dinger, the Hess truck was as close to a fancy plumbers toy you could buy. Just imagine the number of septics you could service before you had to pump out the truck – it had to be a plumbers dream.
But yet I still wondered: no matter how much you love your work, “what fun is it to play pumping out a septic tank?”
Since none us went into the family plumbing business, I guess you have the answer. Not so much.
The truth is, like all boy toys, the Hess truck was most often deployed as weapon. It was a huge flame thrower — torching dinosaurs, cowboys, indians and little green army guys every holiday season. Or in keeping with the Xmas spirit, we would drive it into the enemy Lego stronghold clearing the path for invasion. Never once do I recall refilling the local Playschool service station or for that matter pumping out a full septic tank at a Lincoln Log house.
The allure of the Hess truck remains a daunting mystery to me. Yet, it always makes me smile and think of my grandfather and Xmas past.
Ho Ho Ho – Merry Christmas.