OK, folks, it's nostalgia time.

A few years ago, I was surfing the web, when I came across a community site, which raised the question "What was the best toy you ever got for Christmas?"

The question intrigued me, and after a few moments contemplation, the answer hit me like a thunderbolt, and I added my thoughts to the many already posted on the site. I was delighted when a few people responded in a positive manner and decided it would make a good subject for this week's column.

I limited myself to one gift on the site, but there are actually TWO gifts I remember with equal fondness, received on different Christmases, and if you folks don't mind I'll share both of them with you now.

The first one - which I did not mention in the article - occurred when I was about 8 years old. That summer, air rifles had become popular in the neighborhood, and it seemed like every kid on the block had one.

Every kid but me, that is.

An air rifle, if you're unfamiliar with them, is a toy gun, usually made of metal, which when cocked charges a chamber and when you pull the trigger air is released with loud "popping" sound. Because you didn't need caps or anything else you had an unlimited supply of ammunition and they were a lot of fun to boot.

Unfortunately, when I broached the subject about getting one, my dad said "No!" Even though I tried a couple of times, the answer was always the same. And I knew Dad well enough by then to know that when he said "No" in THAT tone of voice, he didn't mean "maybe." No was no, and that was it.

Well I dealt with my disappointment as best as I could and said nothing further. The months rolled by and Christmas finally came. I hadn't asked Santa for one - I figured there was no point - but when I unwrapped that big long box Christmas morning, there it was, a brand new air rifle. I eagerly ran into the bedroom where Dad was just getting up. I had no fear, because I knew that even Dad wasn't going to argue with Santa in such matters. He just took one look, said "Oh all right," and left it that.

One other little interesting incident occurred shortly afterward. As happens occasionally, the gun broke shortly after I started to use it. It wasn't my fault - I think the elves must have been having a bad day when they put it together. Although I was heartbroken, Mom assured me that we could get another one. Then we went to the local toy store and got it exchanged, no problem. However, when I asked Mom why we were going to the toy store, when the gun had been made in Santa's workshop, she replied that Santa sometimes farms out his toy orders to local stores, and that's how we were able to exchange the gun in town instead of having to send it all the way back to the North Pole.

Yes sir, smart guy that Santa. And let me tell you, I fought off a lot of enemy soldiers with that air rifle over the years as I protected my home and neighborhood from the threat of foreign invasion.

And now, the Christmas present which actually takes the top spot in my all-time favorites. Because it literally was the gift that kept on giving.

Erector sets.

I got my Erector set a few years after the air rifle. I saw a commercial for them on television and just went Oooooo! when I saw it. The whole concept of being able to build things with steel girders, nuts and bolts absolutely intrigued me.

This was one toy that Dad was agreeable with, and we placed the order with Santa accordingly. However, Dad had to backpedal a bit on a certain issue. He had previously insisted that any toy you saw advertised on television was no good, and my siblings and myself should avoid such things at all costs.

Looking back, I can understand my Dad's logic. A lot of things advertised in those days were made of cheap plastic. Worse, this was before the FCC began to take a hard look at kid's commercials, and as a result a lot of toys advertised on television were "souped up" via trick photography and other techniques, which either greatly exaggerated their capabilities, or were just plain dishonest. I recall a number of times when I saw and played with some of those toys because other kids had them, they fell far short of how they were depicted in the commercials.

Anyway, I asked Dad why Erector sets were OK - being advertised on TV - but other things were not. He managed to give some reason which I accepted, but the moral is, be careful about making such blanket to your kids.

Again, for those unfamiliar with them, Erector sets were created in 1913 by Alfred Carlton Gilbert in New Haven, Conn. Although they've gone through a number of changes over the years, the basic premises has remained the same. The kits consists of small steel girders with holes in the, along with nuts, bolts, pulleys and gears, as well as a number of steel platforms, also with holes. Using plans provided with the kit, a person joins the girders together, and, utilizing the other items, can build a large number of working devices. One of my favorites was a large metal windmill which, when you turned the crank, caused the blades to move. Many kits also have an electric motor which allows a person to build models that are powered by batteries.

One of the greatest thing about this particular toy is once you built and played with your project, you could take it apart and build something else. As the old saying goes "Half the fun is building it yourself," and I spent many happy hours working on various projects.

All right, that's it for me. But I'll tell you what. If anyone would like to share THEIR best Christmas toy, I'll be happy to do so. If you are on our website, please feel free to post your comments there. Or, if you like, I'll take your comments via email - cjmarshall@thedailyreview.com - and I'll share them with the rest of our readers in a future column. Until then, Merry Christmas.