As a child and into my teenage years, a singular event announced that Christmas was comin’.
That was on the day in early November each year when I went to the mailbox and discovered that the Sears Christmas Wish Book had arrived. I was so excited.
I’d open the box to find a green or red catalog filled with dreams. It was one of the happiest days of the year as I snatched it out, held it close to my chest, and ran to the house to show Mama. I wish I had a dollar for every hour that, over the years, I spent flipping through its pages filled with Barbie dolls, transistor radios and canopy beds.
I didn’t just browse. I studied it. I wished with all my heart. Over and over, I read the descriptions. I turned pages down and then I would get a piece of notebook paper and write down the toy or other item, the catalog number and the price.
Despite all this research and wishing, I don’t think I ever got one item from the Sears Wish Book.
Now, don’t feel sorry for me because I always got a few good gifts and often things from the Wish Book list — I was beautifully stocked in Barbies, dollhouses, and her clothes — but Mama normally went to town and bought them or Santa brought them.
It’s hard to recall a time when ordering wasn’t today’s press-the-button easy. You had to fill out the order form and send a check or money order (this was before the popularity of credit cards). Mama and Daddy never possessed a credit card in their lives. And they probably wrote no more than seven or eight checks a year which were primarily for taxes and insurance.
For most of his life, Daddy faithfully went to the phone and power companies every month and paid in cash.
Since I didn’t know where Santa or Mama might be buying my Wish List, it never deterred my enthusiasm for the Sears Wish Book. It is one of the lasting joyful memories of my childhood. I cherished then and now every moment of my Christmas wishing.
The Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog and my people have a long, tangled history. Into the mountains, these catalogs took modern America and household items that they would have never seen anywhere except in the Sears, Roebuck pages. The catalog and the U.S. Postal Service kept them tethered to a world that they could only imagine, one that laid far from the hollers of their reality.
Mama told this story:
She was about six years-old and her sister, Ozelle, was seven. Their daddy had recently announced his anointing by the Holy Ghost to be a preacher in those far-flung mountains filled with churches that only met one or two Sundays a month. A church had called him for his first pastor position so he was going to be ordained in a day-long service that would include a break for dinner on the ground.
Maw-Maw had scraped up enough coins to buy “tams” (berets) for Mama and her sister. She ordered a red one for Mama and a blue one for Ozelle. She put the money in an envelope and it mailed it off. The girls were spinning with excitement. They had never before had anything store bought and to get something from Sears was extraordinary. Every day, they were disappointed when they ran to check the mailbox.
The day of the ordination arrived. Still, no hats. They were heartbroken. Just as they were crawling in the wagon to leave, the postman arrived. With the hats.
“We were the happiest little girls you ever did see,” Mama recalled.
Sadly, this previously great American company is teetering on the edge of financial ruin, close to the end.
My Christmas wish this year is that Sears survives. I wish that with all my heart.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.