Every Christmas we looked forward to the Sears Wish book. Dad would bring home only one copy, and Mom would hand it to us ceremoniously. “Now, kids, you share,” she’d say, and we shared with the ethics of wolves. We shared fists and shoves, but not the book so well. John, being bigger, got to look through it at leisure, exaggerated leisure, while I pested him as best I could, treading his “shove me off the couch now” emotional borders. When I became distracted, he would instigate, “Oooh, look at this….” and turn a shoulder so I couldn’t see. Back and forth, escalating to greater tease and discontent, until Mom stepped in and commandeered the catalogue several times.
Finally, it would be my turn to see the catalogue. “John, you’ve had your turn,” were the magic words, and Mom would deliver it to me. I’d stick my tongue out at John, and Mom -her back to us while walking away- would scold, “Lorraine, don’t stick your tongue out.” John would smirk, “I didn’t want it anyway,” and find something else to do. Occasionally, he would saunter past as I wildy dog-eared pages, and knock the book off my lap onto the floor.
“Mom, Lorraine threw the Sears book at me!” he’d call out.
“If you kids can’t share, then maybe we’ll have to tell Santa he better not stop here this year,” Mom would call from the kitchen, as she stirred the pots for Saturday dinner.
I’d curl up in my cozy, flannel, footed pajamas and marvel at the enormous world of Barbie. The Sears Wish book was one of the only times I saw the entire line of toys all in one place. Sometimes when we would be at the mall Mom would let us go into a toy store, but often we didn’t have time. Certainly we wouldn’t travel down the mall just to look. Seeing the Sears book was glorious. I imagined the world I could create for Barbie, Ken, and my favorite- Malibu skipper. Were they destined for the plane? They could take a trip to Hawaii, which could be the pool and the ocean could be the top step. Should they acquire a camper? I could roll our shag carpet back and they could visit the rocky mountains in the high altitude of the couch. Maybe Barbie needed a car upgrade. Ken loved cars, and that would bring her some extra attention. The Wish book contained my wishes, but since they impacted so many- Barbie et all, Krissy and Velvet, the horses, and the host of stuffed animals- then each scenario must be accounted for and considered.
There I was, hair in spongy rollers, deciding the fate of a small nation. Eventually, dinner would be called, and after dinner I’d call Maryann to ask her thoughts on these important matters.
Mom and Dad mapped out a Christmas budget with the solid structure characteristic of our household. Dad told us we could earmark or circle as many toys as we wanted, but Santa had $75 to spend on each of us. Further, Santa only shopped Sears. Our holiday bounty always seemed to stretch closer to the $100 mark. Years later I realized Dad was passing along his employee discount. Each year $75 was spent, but an extra $25 added, due to Santa’s employee discount. Christmas magic right there.
In spite of the excitement surrounding the Wish Book, Christmas rituals extended beyond its pages. In fact, since we shopped at home, we didn’t need to go shoulder to shoulder in the toy isles of December. We had time for other things, like the annual ritual of cleaning our rooms out, “making room for new toys.” Closets were cleared, and Dad piled all gently used clothes and toys into the car until it looked like the Grinch’s sleigh. He, Mom, and I would make a trip to the orphanage. The family also had time to clean the house- top to bottom. When we received Jesus into our hearts and homes, both better be clean. We had time to bake cookies and light Advent wreaths and watch cheap claymation Christmas television. Mom took me out shopping for Dad (a tie), and Dad took me out shopping for Mom (slippers). The first Monday in December Dad penciled in a full day off work, and he and Mom decorated while John and I were at school. Mom loved that day, having Dad all to herself for once. Dad would pick me up at school that afternoon, he and Mom excited to share the decorated house. I’d tell all the other kids, “My DAD is picking me up today!” and get as many kids as possible to come to the car to see him. I was so proud. I wanted the whole school to see the most handsome, brilliant, special Dad in the world.
Mom and I enjoyed reminising about the role Sears had played in our Christmas’. Sears had given us a little extra money to afford things. Dad received two ‘extra paychecks’ each year which would be slated for Christmas. Sears meant the Wish book, and it was where we got the boys their Christmas sweaters, on layaway. As children, it was where we all met Santa for the first time and sat on his lap, starry-eyed and hopeful.
Many, many years later, right around the holidays, Mom would receive in the mail a reminder of Dad’s years of service for Sears. A dividend statement accounted the Sears stock- I believe it was one share or so- which Dad had been issued as an employee benefit. Mom could decide to roll it over, or she could opt to get a check. When that check for $7 and coins arrived, Mom got such a kick out of it. “I got this you know… because I am a stockholder.” She would fan herself with the check. “What shall I invest this in?” Mom considered, smiling. “Coffee?”
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