With Halloween behind us, my mind wafts to an annual, magical day in the home in which I grew up. It always came weeks before Santa Claus miraculously came down the chimney that our family’s ranch house didn’t have.
On that day’s dawn, my mother headed out for her weekly shopping trip — usually at metro Detroit’s sparkly new Fairlane Town Center. Sometimes she went alone, other times with my grandmother, “Ma,” and on some days, a subset of her children accompanied her.
But independent of how that Saturday started each year, it ended the same way: with the delivery of the Sears Holiday Wish Book into my and my brother and sisters’ hot little hands.
Today, in a world replete with iPad-clutching toddlers, it’s hard to convey the impact of that inches-thick catalog’s arrival in our home. Today, kids of all ages can and do shop online. With a few quick clicks and an active Amazon Prime account, today’s kids can have many of their hearts’ desires delivered in a nondescript cardboard carton within hours.
But back in the day, when the colorful Sears Holiday Wish Book was tossed on the kitchen table, and the manifestation of our Christmas dreams was weeks away (if you were lucky), it was a whole different thing.
My sisters and I sprawled out on our family room’s shag-carpeted floor. Spiral notebooks and sharpened pencils where brandished. We needed pencils — never markers or pens — as there was certain to be LOTS of revisions before we settled upon final drafts.
Deadlines for Christmas lists were communicated. Time limits for each child were set, in the event that efforts to share a single Wish Book among the three of us went south.
Mercifully, my older brother had aged out of the majority of Santa Claus preparatory activities. I’d brilliantly surmised that by the time you got older, Santa knew you well enough to know what toys to leave behind without needing a list.
But for those of us who were younger, we had work to do. We only had a few short weeks to assemble a road map for Santa Claus.
My parents insisted upon a prioritized, limited list — no more than 10 items per child, as I recall — but how in the name of Black Jesus was I to limit my yuletide imagination to just 10? That Sears Wish Book contained, literally, hundreds of glorious, vibrant pages of toys.
How was I to decide between Mr. Potato Head, the Six Million Dollar Man action figure (let alone Oscar Goldman, The Bionic Woman, or Bigfoot), or GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip?
How about the iPad’s precursor, the 2-XL? Yes, it was a glorified 8-track player but I needed it! Let alone the bikes, the basketballs, the board games, the ice skates…all to be wrapped up in festive packages, boxes, and bags.
The Burgermeister Meisterburger from the 1970 Rankin / Bass classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town would have been screwed, I posited, if he’d tried to ban toys in Inkster, Michigan. He’d best keep his Grinchy ass in SomberTown, I thought. In Inkster, we had that Sears Holiday Wish Book, and it promised the world. At least on Christmas morning.
As Sears declined, so did the Wish Book. Today, that wonderful holiday treasure of my childhood is a shadow of what it was in its glory days. A decade or so ago, the chain tried to resurrect it as an online resource, accessible to those aforementioned, iPad-wielding children.
But it wasn’t to be — it couldn’t have worked. The Wish Book was born and flourished in a time that had passed.
In reviewing past Wish Books, after several decades away from them, the lack of melanin among their cover models was rather glaring. It was the early 90s, it appears, before Sears realized that kids of color were dreaming of a white Christmas, too.
If the retailer had picked up on that reality a little earlier, maybe they wouldn’t be on the verge of bankruptcy. The Sears at Fairlane Town Center closed last year, along with hundreds of other locations across the country.
Today, the closest I’ve found to the wonder of the Sears Wish Book is Hallmark’s annual Dream Book, which features their charming ornaments and holiday home fixtures. I love getting the Dream Book in the mail, and each year, I spend way more money than I should on miniature, Christmas tree ornament-versions of Mr Potato Head, The Six Million Dollar Man, 2-XL, and GI Joe with the KUNG FU GRIP! (Actually, I’m still waiting for the latter one!).
Each year, I start growing a beard on the day after Halloween, and I back off of the fitness regimen just a little, to ensure my belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly by Christmas Eve. (It makes for a good excuse to have a Cranberry Bliss Bar at Starbucks, anyway.)
It’s all in an effort to retain just a little bit of the kid that clutched that Sears Wish Book as if his life depended on it. Maybe it did.
And maybe it still does.
Here’s to a great holiday season. Oh, to hell with political correctness! I know it’s early, but…