When I was quite young, I started getting and playing with Matchbox cars. I registered to receive a small catalog annually that showed the available models. I would spend hours looking at each page over and over again, finding the few cars I owned, and coveting many that I did not.
Then Hot Wheels cars came on the scene. This changed everything. While Matchbox cars were made to look like actual vehicles that were in mass production, Hot Wheels cars depicted custom hot rods and muscle cars.
To top it off, Hot Wheels were made to actually race on plastic tracks. The most I could do with Matchbox cars was to play with them on the car town blanket my Mom had made for me. Matchbox cars might have won the reality contest, but that was so mundane. Hot Wheels cars won the coolness contest hands down.
Like every other boy I knew, I wanted Hot Wheels cars. And therein lies the rub. Hot Wheels cars and tracks were the ur-popular Christmas gift for boys that year. In my town, demand quickly outstripped supply. Anxious parents soon found it impossible to buy Hot Wheels toys for their young sons.
I never experienced a needy Christmas. We didn’t get the piles of stuff or expensive things that some of our friends with more spendy parents got, but my parents always made sure that we got sufficient booty each Christmas morning.
That year on Christmas morning, I was as excited as ever as I unwrapped my gifts and piled them in my personal treasure hoard. I was delighted when I opened a shiny miniature race car as my older brothers opened Hot Wheels cars. One brother got a single strip of Hot Wheels track that we quickly attached to the kitchen table with the included plastic C-clamp.
Then came an early lesson in branding. My brothers pointed out to me that my car was not an actual Hot Wheels brand toy. It was from some unknown company. While it was a racer, it had skinny wheels instead of wide Hot Wheels tires. It was lighter weight than my brothers’ Hot Wheels cars. They only permitted me to run my inferior imitation on the official Hot Wheels track after threats of discipline by my parents.
Mom explained that there simply were no more Hot Wheels cars to be had and that it had been difficult to find the car they had given me. I refused to be mollified. In a matter of a few moments, my delight with my Christmas bounty turned to vexation. Nothing had physically changed. I still had the same pile of gifts as before. It was just that one of the cheapest gifts was not the popular brand.
I had received a carrying case that was designed to hold 24 Hot Wheels cars, but I had no Hot Wheels cars to put in the case. I stowed my new racer and my Matchbox cars in some of the slots. Most slots were still empty.
All of the slots in my carrying case filled up over the next couple of years, mostly with new Hot Wheels cars. This included my first Hot Wheels car, the greenish Silhouette that had a plastic bubble for a roof. (I still have a replica of it in my junk drawer.) I eventually had so many cars that I had to stack some of the lower profile models together in slots.
I also got new tracks over the next few years. One had a “Supercharger” house that made cars zoom around the track. Another was specially built for “Sizzlers” rechargeable cars. I even got a “Hotline” train set and an “Earthshakers” bulldozer based on the same technology.
I kept my first racer. But I almost never actually played with it. I was ashamed to show it to friends or to let anyone know that I even had the car, although; it was actually pretty fast on the track.
How easy it is to turn from gratitude to unhappiness when something that is perfectly fine on its own doesn’t meet the approval of peers. How tempting it is to hide away a gift when others are critical of it.