Children, toys embody Christmas spirit Remote-control cars emerge as a favorite

December 26, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

Christmas Day broke cold and quiet over the Baltimore waterfront, and by 9 a.m., as church bells heralding the birth of Christ rang out from Mount Winans to Cedonia, the sun began to break through clouds hanging over an old broom factory off the corner of Boston and Baylis streets.

It was 39 degrees; the harbor lay calm, and the streets were empty except for a few sea gulls and a long-haired young man walking with a guitar across his back and no coat.

Up on the green hill that is Patterson Park, Bob Griffith walked Cagney, an Irish setter who awoke Christmas morn to a stocking filled with dog cookies.

Watching the animal lope across the park's rolling lawn -- the smell of baking bread in the air and the copper onion caps of St. Michael's Ukrainian Church shining across the street -- Mr. Griffith reflected on Christmas and said: "I'm just glad to be around for another one."

The spirit of the season is different now, he said, since he left childhood behind.

"I believe in the Christmas spirit and the whole idea, but I don't get into the religious part as much as I did when I was younger," said Mr. Griffith. "It wasn't so much a turning point, it was just a drifting away."

As Mr. Griffith drifted into the rest of his holiday, following Cagney down a bend in the park with thoughts of dinner waiting for him at a friend's house later in the afternoon, the children of Christmas began to come outside with their toys.

Before noon the temperature had climbed into the mid-40s, and anyone walking the streets might have thought that Santa's elves only worked from one blueprint this year. On every stretch of asphalt or concrete were kids with remote-control race cars.

Brian Kennedy's was called "Turbo Fusion," and he made it go like the dickens on a parking lot of the Flag House projects near Little Italy. The 14-year-old followed the car with his eyes as it darted between the curbs, but the action stopped when 9-year-old Charlie Ware raised his hand.

"That's what everybody asked for! Right there!" said Brian and he pointed to a plastic contraption on Charlie's right hand. "A turbo fist!"

The vaunted "turbo fist" allows a youngster to control his race car with one cool hand: a mere flick of the wrist and the car will stop on a dime, pop a wheelie, and take off in the other direction.

Pretty cool. But even "turbo fist" can't make a car do what "Cosmo Cop" can do. Watching the toy police car in the 2200 block of North Calvert Street, grown-up Charles McClean said: "That's one incredible car right there."

As Mr. McClean marveled, 9-year-old Gary Beatty put his toy through its paces: First "Cosmo Cop" raised itself off the ground on a lift column, then its wheels turned out sideways like little wings, and its tail lights and head lights began blinking as the car rotated on the lift.

"Isn't that incredible?" Mr. McClean said.

Yep.

Mr. McClean, a neighbor of Gary Beatty and his siblings Greg Melton, 6, and Shanetta Melton, 3, watched the kids with their cars and dolls and balls and it took him way back.

"When I was real small I got a little Thunderbird car for Christmas that you had to pedal, and I rode that thing into the ground," he said. "That memory is as far back as I can remember."

Said Gregory Melton Sr., the children's father: "This is one day that children have that's all theirs. They can enjoy themselves as kids, and I get out here with them and let myself go."

Mr. McClean agreed: "Kids ought to have fun on Christmas because Santa Claus is really like a Holy Spirit. He's a sign of goodness."

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