Morris Mericle

Christmas of 1936 was hard for almost everyone. Our family had lost their house to foreclosure and I spent a lot of time driving around with my dad while he looked for a loan. The money would allow him to refurbish a tiny house with an outdoor privy and make it suitable for four adults and us three kids. My mother’s parents were the other two adults in the household.

Both my sister and I had contracted polio that year. We each had a long convalescence. Meanwhile, my parents were still recovering from the financial drain of a menopause  baby who had been a surprise Christmas present the year before.

Several times that late fall my mother cautioned me to not expect much at Christmas. She reminded me that I was 11 now and she expected me to act like it.

On December 25th, we began opening the pitiful pile of presents. Carolyn was still too sick to care much what she got, and Bob was just learning to walk and was happy just playing with the boxes and tissues.

When my turn came, my mother cautioned me once more about a lean Christmas and then pointed to a jacket hooked over the back of a straight-back chair. I bit my lip trying to be brave and hold back my tears of disappointment. I mumbled something like, "Gee, that’s swell" as I lifted up the brown garment. It was then I saw what the jacket had been hiding: an 8 ½ erector set, the largest size. It had probably cost $14, a huge amount at that time. A prudent person could eat for two weeks on $14.

Only later did I learn that my dad had originally bought me a 5 ½ erector set, only to learn from our neighbor that their son would be getting the 7 ½ set. It was then that my dad took my present back and exchanged it for the best erector set offered. I think he needed to give it as much as I needed to get it.

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Max, my playmate, and I combined our two sets and built an exhibit that was displayed at the Iowa State Fair the next summer. Both of us went on to excel at technical studies, and I traced our initial interest in construction and mathematics from that time on.

Morris Mericle, 12/12/2012