Early November, what better time than to be thinking about Christmas magic? Halloween over and Thanksgiving just around the corner. And growing up, it was late October or early November when the Sears Christmas Wish Book would arrive in the mail. But while the arrival of this wish book would always be met with excited kids, it didn’t represent magic for me.
Sadly, I have virtually no memories of my childhood up until about the age of four. I know this because for the first four years of my life, we lived in Natchitoches, a small town in North Western Louisiana and I have no memories of this town other than those from home movies. But even more sadly, I have no memories of ever believing in Santa Claus. And what is not more magical about Christmas to a three or four year old than to believe in Santa Claus?
It’s not that my parents didn’t want me to believe in Santa; it is just that they said they did not want to lie to me about his existence. There is an old family story about my oldest sister that after learning the truth from my parents, she went around our Natchitoches neighborhood telling all the other kids that Santa was not real. A revelation which I am told lead to a phone call to my parents about that being fine if they didn’t want their own kids to believe in Santa Claus but that my sister shouldn’t be going around telling their kids. I can only imagine the grief I too must have experienced when I was told the truth, grief I have no conscious memory of but grief nonetheless that is somewhere hidden in the recesses of my mind.
But I have also been told of Christmas Eve’s in Natchitoches, when my father and grandfather were up late assembling toys, bikes and trains for me to find on Christmas morning. I was my parent’s first son and my maternal grandfather only had three daughters so I can just imagine their child-like excitement of building these little boy toys for me to discover on Christmas morning. Whether or not I believed these presents to be left by Santa or not, I will never know.
The childhood Christmas memories I do have are from the years when we lived in another town in Northern Louisiana, West Monroe. It was here that my fondest memory was of when the Sears Wish Book would arrive in the mail. I am sure there must have been fights among my three siblings, two older sisters and a younger brother who would get to peruse the book first. It is probably hard for someone born in the 1980’s or 1990’s to fathom a time before the Internet with its infinite number of shopping websites. But for someone born in the 1950’s and growing up in the 1960’s, the Sears Wish Book was it, your own personal shopping guide to all the magical toys you could imagine. But even this book came with a catch, at least in our family.
We were told we could pick whatever Christmas present we wanted from this book—as long as it didn’t cost more than $25. You see we were given the Sears Christmas book and a budget of $25. With my father being a minister and my mother not working outside the home, coming up with even $100 for us four kids was probably a major undertaking—one I greatly appreciate them making the sacrifice for us as I don’t recall my parents opening any presents for themselves on Christmas morning beyond items they needed such as socks, hose or white “preaching” shirts.
But sadly all the years of going through the Sears catalog, the one present I always wanted but could never afford with my Christmas budget was an electric slot car racetrack.
If you have read my previous posts about cars, you know I have always loved cars. And racing small cars around a plastic track was a thrill I always wanted to experience. I would always flip to these pages first and just drool over the pictures of the racetrack sets and the young boys pictured having a great time playing with them. But unfortunately, they always cost at least two to three times my $25 budget. I know I found other toys to ask for at Christmas but deep down I knew I never really got my first choice, the gift I truly wanted.
Then one year, the Sears catalog came and when I flipped to the pages where the racetracks were, there was pictured a battery-operated racetrack. And I couldn’t believe my eyes; it was less than $25. I could finally afford to get the racetrack I had always wanted. It wasn’t the fancy ones I had always seen with loops and lane switches but it was a racetrack nonetheless. I am certain it was a quick trip into my mom to excitedly tell her I had found what I wanted for Christmas. Now all I had to do was wait until Christmas morning.
Since none of us expected presents to arrive on Christmas morning from Santa, my mom would wrap the presents as they arrived in the mail and place them under the Christmas tree. And with the childlike anticipation of Christmas, what were we supposed to do other than shake the presents to try to figure out what they might be, even though we had a good idea what they were. So one year, my mom decided not to put names on the presents to keep us from shaking them. Her thoughts were we would leave them alone if we didn’t know who they were for and she would also remember what each one was on Christmas morning and be able to pass each present to his/her rightful recipient. Unfortunately, the year she did this was the year I was to get my first racetrack.
Christmas morning came and I waited with extreme anticipation to receive my wrapped package with my racetrack inside. I was so excited I am sure I could hardly sit still. When my box was finally passed to me, I ripped into it only to find that rather than a racetrack; it was a set of electric hair rollers. And what was even worse was that same Christmas morning my aunt 500 miles away in Texas was opening up my racetrack, the intended recipient of the hair rollers. The two boxes had been similar in size and since there were no names on the wrapped packages, it was my racetrack that had been mailed to my aunt rather the rollers. Fortunately we were going to visit my aunt and uncle the next day but I had to wait all Christmas day and then endure the 500-mile trip to get there before I could get to play with my new racetrack.
When I was in high school, our tradition of opening presents on Christmas morning became a Christmas Eve event. As my older sisters had since moved out of the house, it was not Christmas morning but rather Christmas Eve after 6:00 PM church service that all of us would be together in my parents home. Even as a teenager, I can recall being excited opening presents on Christmas Eve, but then waking up on Christmas morning only to realize all of the excitement was over. When I got married and started my own family, I was determined to create our own Christmas traditions and when we had children, ensure that they had fond childhood memories of Christmas. But what would these be…