Who among you remembers the McDonald's Fry Guys?
When the Fry Guys first made a lasting mark in my memory, it was about the mid 80's if I remember correctly. I just loved the plush, funny faces with bug eyes, mops of hair and legs coming straight from their heads. After all, that's how I drew people when I was really little. I forgot they had bodies! Arms would stick out from where the ears should be, legs came from the neck, and the body was completely forgotten. The Fry Guys were an instant hit with me.
McDonald's took the huge hit character and began marketing it all over the place. First came the clothing line. The Fry Guys were on kids T-shirts and socks. The printed faces could occasionally even be seen on flannel pajamas and night dresses for children. I loved those little guys! I wanted a Fry Guys thing of my very own.
I remember walking through the BX on Little Rock Air Force Base one of the few times we ever went there with my mother. Rack after rack of clothing could be seen with the McDonald's merchandise hanging from it. Hamburglar and that big purple guy Grimace were even being marketed those days. Kids everywhere in school had some sort of McDonald's caracter clothing. As much as I loved the Fry Guys, I knew exactly what I wanted.
"Manda, we already have all of your school clothes," Mom said to me that blustery Arkansas fall. Halloween was coming up and we were looking for pumpkins to put our candy in. I stood on the back of the cart and let my mom push me in that direction. I really wanted some of the Fry Guys stuff.
"Oh Manda," My mom said, suddenly wheeling the cart down one of the aisles, "Look at these!" Bright red and yellow slippers with the heads of Fry Guys on the toes were hanging in front of my face. "Aren't these cute?!"
My face lit up. Mom had seen the light! She knew how badly I wanted those Fry Guys for my very own, and now she had picked something out for me!
"Mom, can I have 'em?" I asked politely. "Puh Lease!"
"Manda, you already have some slippers. You don't need more. I just thought they were cute."
My face fell and I don't remember much else about that shopping trip. We found the plastic orange pumpkins and left with our purchase. The Fry Guys slippers remained behind.
Several months went by and I stopped asking for the Fry Guys. I knew there was no way I was going to get them. That Christmas, a miracle happened.
Brightly wrapped gifts lined the floor under the small tree we had put up in the living room. McDonald's even had their own wrapping paper that year, and the Fry Guys were on the occasional package. So were Grimace and Hamburglar. I loved the shine of the foil backgrounds, the brighly colored characters, the golden arches advertising the franchise. There was also Santa paper, snow man paper, bright blue and gold ribbons, red and silver bows. Everywhere I looked was like seeing the northern lights in our living room.
Dad was away that year in Alaska. He had told us about the Northern Lights in one of his letters. Back then there was no email or internet... we had to send hand written letters to him as he did to us. There was no other way. Having a year remote tour in the military was much harder in those days without web cams and instant communications methods. I still don't know how my mother survived that year with us two kids and no husband, but somehow she pulled through. Because Dad was gone on Christmas, Mom wanted to set up the video camera and show Dad our faces as we opened our bright packages. She would mail him a video tape the very next day and his Christmas wouldn't be nearly as bleek then. That's what she had hoped. I'm sure it was still very hard on him, being that far away from the people he loved most in the world on a day like Christmas.
We had breakfast first. Dad always had a tradition of making pancakes on Christmas morning, filled with blueberries or chocolate chips. We would spread loads of butter on them and smother them with sugary syrup. Afterwards, slower than we would have been because of a carb overload, we were finally allowed to open our gifts. That year, Mom upheld the tradition in his place. Our feet were cold on the hard linoleum floor of the kitchen, but we very much looked forward to the warm carpet of the living room, sitting close to the tree.
One by one we began to open the packages. The pile of torn wrapping paper and used gift boxes grew little by little. We piled our gifts neatly to one side, the paper on another, and any materials worthy of using again in yet another pile.
I got Lurkey that year. Lurkey was a brown plush toy that was inspired by one of the bad guys from Rainbow Bright, another toy of the 80's tv era. His long brown nose looked very much like a potato, and his eyes were like two ping pong balls with black dots. He always wore red tennis shoes. When I opened Lurky, my heart melted. Instantly I grabbed him up and cuddled with him. I completely forgot about the other gifts waiting for me to open. Lurky was the only thing that mattered. I loved squeezing his soft plush body. Something about him reminded me of the Fry Guys, with his arms protruding where ears should have been and feet coming from his neck. He was my favorite toy that year.
Mom reminded me of my other gifts. She gently prompted me to put down my Lurky doll and continue opening my presents before the camera battery died. She moved the camera over to the kitchen door way to get a better angle on the rest of the gifts and positioned the tripod on the hard lynoleum surface. She zoomed in on us kids as we opened the last few presents under the tree.
When all the gifts were open, it was time for the stockings. We had hung them from the wall since we didnt' have a fireplace, but somehow Santa had managed to find his way in the house and locate the stockings anyway. Good job, Santa. The first items to come out were always identical between my brother and myself. It was usually an ornament my Grandmother Irene had made by hand. They were identical always, but with some minor difference so that we could tell which was meant for my brother and which was meant for me. That year was knitting baskets, his with a blue ball of yarn, mine with pink. Tiny knitting needles poked out of the tiny yarn decorations up towards the tiny handles of the tiny baskets. Proudly, we hung our ornaments on the tree. Grandma was wonderful at making things.
The next items to come out were Macintosh apples. They were my dads most favorite apples, the only ones he would eat. Whenever Mom bought them, we weren't allowed to have any because they were for him. They were more expensive than the other apples, and we ate those just fine while he didn't. It became a running tradition in our family to eat Macintosh apples together each year for a long time. It was the only day of the year my Dad was willing to share that treasure.
Candy poured out next. A mixture of Hersheys chocolates, chocolate kisses, a box of chocolate covered cherries, and other assortments poured out into our hands. Then, all the way at the bottom, there was usually one special gift waiting for us. Mine felt like a miniature mop.
I pulled out a familiar bright red and yellow soft texture in my hands. The ankle cuffs were the first thing I saw, with the tight knit ankle band striped with crimson and gold. My heart jumped. It couldn't be! Could it?
Mom told me to run grab the camera from the kitchen so she could take a couple of pictures to send to the rest of the family. I jumped up in my lovely new slippers and dashed off to the kitchen. My feet hit that slick lynoleum floor and the next thing I remember was waking up with the breath knocked out of me laying flat on the floor with a lump on the back of my head. I don't think I was out very long.