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Finding the Wonder At Hand

Who knows the influence of a moment in time, one as fleeting as a snowflake and just as magical? In 1978, Mark Bellomo received a Star Wars toy as a Christmas present. It was a gift of unimaginable joy for Bellomo, today one of the world's leading toy experts.

I am slowly reading a book by Brian Doyle entitled, One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder.

The reading is slow, but not because it’s difficult. The reading is slow because it’s a joy.

In the morning, over coffee, I’ll take a moment to read one of his essays. It’s like a vitamin. One and I’m good for the entire day. And sometimes, in the evening after dinner, Doyle’s essays are like the chocolate chip cookies my wife makes. I start with one and end with four. They are that tasty.

If you want to know why I find myself thinking about wonder and joy today – and hinting for my wife to make more cookies – look at the photo below.

Mark Bellomo, 7, with his Star Wars Millennium Falcon on Christmas Day, 1978.

A Christmas present in 1978 helped to set a course of adventure for Mark Bellomo, today one of the world's leading authorities on Star Wars toys.

That’s writer, author and renowned toy expert Mark Bellomo. Only he’s none of that in the photo. He’s just a kid, 7 years old. It’s Christmas morning. 1978. That’s a Millennium Falcon in his hands, only one of the coolest toys a kid could get on Christmas morning if he happened to LOVE Star Wars. And Mark did.

And he still does.

Maybe it’s no wonder Bellomo became one of the leading experts on Star Wars toys in the world. If you look at the photo long enough you can see it. That kid is never letting go.

And maybe it’s not surprising that this little kid would fall in love with all his kid toys, so much so that one day he would write essays and books and help produce TV shows that would entertain millions who also fell in love with their toys when they were kids, and joy came as easy and as magical as a Christmas morning.

I recently talked with Bellomo about Pac-Man, the groundbreaking video arcade game that turns 40 this month. I've known Bellomo for a long time and I knew he was an early gamer. To read more on that conversation click here

Mark Bellomo

When it comes to toys, Bellomo combines childlike enthusiasm with the knowledge of a historian.

“I embraced video gaming and the video subculture that developed in its wake because in order to play video games, you didn’t have to be big and athletic in order to succeed,” Bellomo says of those heady video arcade days. “All that video gaming required was good hand-to-eye coordination, decent reflexes, and… a stout imagination.”

Catching Pac-Man fever was unavoidable for Bellomo. The arcade was a sanctuary for a bespectacled, 98-lb. (soaking wet), Dungeons & Dragons-playing, action figure collecting, comic book-reading, dyed-in-the-wool nerd.

Bellomo was a natural. His Pac-Man high scores were posted weekly for all to see. An identity took shape.

“Bragging rights for achieving a high score on your local arcade’s revered Pac-Man arcade machine elevated the status of your average geek to that of a daring, swashbuckling adventurer,” Bellomo explains.

Swashbuckling adventurer, indeed.

If you look long enough at the photograph of Bellomo from 1978, you can see it in his hands, and on his face. All that was to come, captured in a Polaroid moment when the world was filled with wonder.