My sisters and I poured over the Sears Catalog and the Montgomery Ward Catalog and whatever other holiday shopping catalogs we had in the house. In the 1960s, most of the large department stores distributed huge catalogs with pictures of all their wares and, it seemed, we had every single catalog available.
Of course, for my sisters and for me, the most important parts of the catalogs were the toy sections.
We thumbed through the catalogs and made extensive lists of the toys we wanted for Christmas, carefully noting any available options for size and color. Finally, we presented our lists to our mother.
“Santa’s not bringing you all that!” Mother exclaimed when she saw the multi-page lists we had prepared.
“But how do you know Santa won’t bring it all?” we asked.
Despite our protestations, Mother made us pare down our lists to a reasonable size that we could mail off to Santa.
“But we need a stamp,” I commented, as we sealed the envelopes addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole”.
“You don’t need a stamp on a letter to Santa Claus,” Mom answered.
That sounded reasonable, I thought.
We bundled up in our warm but bulky winter clothes and headed to the Post Office, just a short block away from our house and, after posting our letters, we boarded a bus to go shopping on “The Avenue”.
Central Avenue was one of our favorite places to shop. Central Avenue was home to much more interesting stores than was Downtown and, with the holiday decorations and lights, was also much more festive.
Central Avenue was the location of Woolworth’s, one of our favorite stores. We liked Woolworth’s because we could visit our Aunt Statia who worked there, and we were sometimes allowed to sit at the soda fountain and order banana splits, the price of which was determined by picking one of the balloons that hung over the soda counter. If you were lucky, you might select a balloon with a price as low as a penny.
Christmas shopping also afforded us the opportunity to visit Santa and tell him, in person, what we wanted for Christmas.
“How will he remember what I want for Christmas?” I asked.
“Don’t worry, he will,” was the reply.
“But how?” I asked again.
“He just will.”
My sisters and I waited in line to talk to Santa. We noticed with some alarm that, once propped on Santa’s lap, several of the children in front of us were so frightened of the old man that all they could do was cry. Hmmph, I thought. That won’t happen to me.
Then came my turn.
“What’s your name?” Santa asked.
“Stephen”, I replied.
“And what do you want for Christmas, Stephen?” Santa asked.
My mind went blank. I couldn’t think of a single, blessed thing. Memory of the list I had so recently made had simply vanished from my head.
“Ummm…” I stammered. “Ummm…”
“Yes? Go ahead,” said Santa, gently.
“A FIRE ENGINE!” I blurted out.
I disengaged myself from Santa’s lap, readjusted my jacket, and walked over to my mother. She looked at me quizzically and said, “I didn’t know you wanted a fire engine.”
“I don’t,” I said, matter-of-factly.
“Then why did you ask Santa for one?” Mom asked, a bit perplexed.
“I couldn’t think of anything else!” I told her.
Mom helped my sisters and me with our scarves and mittens and hats and we all headed back outside to the street.
There was no wind, and the temperature was mild. It had just started to snow. Big, fat, lazy flakes were tumbling down onto the street. As we stood at the bus stop, we marveled at the sights and sounds around us.
The snow was gently falling – a wonderful, wet, just-before-Christmas snow. Bright holiday decorations and colorful lights were everywhere. And the sounds of Christmas Carols drifted around us, as if carried on the snowflakes themselves.
Written for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories – Day 6.
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen J. Danko