Years ago, many, many years ago, somewhere around the first of December, the Sears catalog and the J.C. Penny’s catalog would arrive in the mail. This signaled the beginning of our annual tradition.
The Sears catalog was the Holy Grail of winter catalogs. There behind the clothing, appliances, tools and other grown up items was toy section! Page after page of toys, glorious toys! It was mainly from this catalog our annual letter to Santa Claus was formed.
The Penny’s catalog had toys too, but not like the Sears catalog! The oldest child always got to sit down with the Sears catalog as the lesser children were doomed to spend days with nothing more than the Penny’s catalog. After the eldest finished with the Sears, the next eldest child would have his/her opportunity to browse the pages. The second eldest usually got just a few days to go through the catalog and write the letter before Christmas arrived. Any younger children were restricted to the Penny’s catalog.
Then, on Christmas morning, at least one of the toys we had written to Santa about would be under the Christmas tree, unwrapped as a gift from St. Nicholas. We would spend a moment looking at the gift from Santa and then off to our stockings pinned to the back of the sofa (we didn’t have a fireplace). Inside the stockings would be nuts, candy and smaller gifts that Santa had left us. A quick nugget of candy would be popped into the mouth and back to the tree.
The first gift we actually opened each year would be the gift from our Aunt Lillian who was a nurse out in California. Aunt Lil had an uncanny knack to pick the coolest gifts. She was a great person in our lives. We saw her maybe once every two years when she came back to visit, and then she was gone again. One year she sent my brother an artillery piece that shot these tennis ball size plastic shells. I received a Sherman tank that shot plastic shells too! We spent hours playing ‘war’ which was nothing more than him and I trying to nail each other with the bullets.
The following year, my brother and I both received sleeping bags! So what if it was the dead of winter and we wouldn’t be able to sleep outside until the following summer! We both slept inside the sleeping bags on our beds until Mom took them away to wash them.
The year after that, I received my first record album (kind of like a CD, but better). It was by the musical group ‘Cream’ which consisted of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce. It was The Best of Cream Album that was released in 1969 and had a white cover with vegetables on it. I had received a record player and my first 45 RPM record (Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell). My older brother received the Beatles Abbey Road album that year. At first I was jealous of my brother because I knew who the Beatles were, but at the time had no idea who Cream was. Soon after I started hearing songs like ‘White Room’ and ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ on the radio and the jealousy was gone.
The following year, it was Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. I have no recollection at all what my brother received. The year after that was Jethro Tull’s Aqualung album. After Aqualung, Aunt Lil moved back to Iowa and we saw her almost daily and every Christmas! But her knack to give us the coolest albums as gifts did not subside.
It was tonight that brought all of these memories back as I spoke with Aunt Lil, now in her late 80’s. As we spoke of Christmas’s past, that I remembered all the great gifts we received from her. I told her that it was her gifts that were always cherished the most as our parents and grandparents bought us what we needed the most in the form of clothes.
It was also at this time that I thought about what I always bought and continue to buy my children and grandchildren. While my wife buys the traditional parental/grandparental gifts of clothes, I buy things I know they want, or will enjoy. I guess I want to be the family member that half a century later my offspring will still be speaking about.
I have now taken you down a path that I haven’t visited in a long time. I hope the journey wasn’t too boring and I pray that maybe it sparked a fond memory for yourself from long ago.
God Bless and Merry Christmas!