The Ocarina that almost wasn’t: my greatest Thanksgiving game memory

It was the half-day Wednesday before Thanksgiving break, 1998, and I had Zelda on my mind. From the moment I woke up until the last seconds of Mr. Sotella’s 8th grade English class announced four and a half days of unencumbrance, I had fixed in my brain the golden cartridge. I had planned, preordered. The hours of freedom stretched before me: 24, 48, 72, 96. Time enough to canvass every pixel in Hyrule.

We talked Ocarina on the carpool ride home. I knew everything there was to know about the game, had read every EGM, every GamePro, had 56k-scoured every inch of 1.0 gaming web. I dispensed my knowledge as best I could, but my carpool mates were fans, not obsessives. They hadn’t even preordered. One of them was more excited to replay Command and Conquer: Red Alert; he’d get to Ocarina when he could. When he could! I looked out the backseat window at the leaf-covered Maryland roadside. Have fun, I thought.

– – –

I spied the yellow rectangle from the end of my driveway. It stuck to the door, and stuck to my heart. The wheels of the Weinberg sedan must have made noise on the gravel as they spun away, but I was deaf to the world. I trudged down the asphalt, a one man funeral procession. A dirge should have played.

The note read: “Signature required. Will make a second attempt at delivery: Monday.”

So this was to be my fate: Ocarina­-less for the duration. Four full days of responsibility-free fourteen-year-old gaming, and gameless. And not just any game! THE game, the big one, the storm of the century game that every magazine and every website and every friend had spent the past year hyping into something like a Super Bowl made of pizza and success.

I threw my Jansport on the floor, slunk to the front-hall tile. I turned the note over. “Package will be held at FedEx facility at…” There was hope, but the holding office was in Frederick, an hour’s drive away. My parents were gems, but they would never agree to take me, not after working all day, not with twenty guests coming over the next afternoon, not when I could play the game in a few short days.

But I had to try, even if I knew the odds were low. My mother came home around six in the teal Windstar, grocery bags in hand. I helped her with them to the kitchen, helped her load the fridge. She must have known I wanted something.

I asked, but I didn’t just ask. I gave a short history of gaming, appealed to her logic and her emotions, ended with a full description of the revolution in a cardboard box waiting just sixty minutes away. Please, Mom, take me to get the game.

“Okay,” she said, and that was that. We got in the minivan. It must have been the look in my eyes, the total helplessness. We drove through the dark the country miles to Frederick. The clerk at the counter told me that I had a very good mom.

During the drive back to Bethesda, I opened the box, took out the cartridge, held the gold in my hands, said nothing. When we pulled back into the driveway, I kissed my mom on the cheek, ran inside, crushed my future into the top of the black box, flipped the switch, heard the music, saw Epona, felt my heart lift.