You think old habits don’t die hard? My adolescent years still dictate how I feel about the holidays, and wish lists, and shopping for Christmas.
I took the time in Columbus last week to do a little shopping.
I went to the mall up on Polaris Parkway to do my own thing – the kind I’ve done since I was a little boy. Oh, I get the “buying” out of the way quickly, the adult part of the process. I know what I want and I just get it done. That part never changes.
“What do you want this year?” you ask.
“I think I’d like…..”
You just go and you get it.
And I don’t do things online. I’m not that trusting of the process yet.
But the part that’s most meaningful to me is thinking back and remembering when…when you knew better than to ask for what you really wanted, because you knew there wasn’t enough money to buy it, anyway.
When you paged through the Montgomery Ward’s catalog all year until the edges were dog-eared from use, just looking, and wondering, what a Remington shotgun, or a pair of boots, or a Rawlings baseball glove would actually feel like if you could hold it in your hands? That’s what I remember most fondly from Christmases past.
I remembered last week…as I walked through Dick’s Sporting Goods, and what I huge difference that was from staring at the sporting goods display of the old C.M. Love Hardware store in downtown Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington was the commercial capital for just about everything in the tri-state area (Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky) where I grew up, and that’s where my mom and dad went to do business…to shop (or buy) come the holidays.
This was circa 1960. My mom was making $2,500 a year teaching; and my dad was working his way through Marshall College, to become a teacher. Tuition fees kept things very frugal at our house, and a big holiday celebration was usually time spent on Christmas eve at my grandparent’s – a big meal and all the fresh oranges, grapes and bananas you could eat from the Huntington produce market.
There was no such thing as a Christmas list, or not much. Typically, I and my friends got clothes and things we needed for school. Toys were a luxury, although my dad always saw to it that there was basketball, a football, and of course, a baseball around the house. And one year when I was eight I actually got a “Fanner Fifty” quick draw cap gun. NEAT!
Another time my mom saved for an entire year to buy Dad a Masonic Hamilton watch. Dad’s gone now, but I still have that watch. When I remember to wind it…it keeps good time.
There was almost no decorating. We lived out in the country and a Christmas tree was cut off the hill and brought down to the house. Mom would put strands of popcorn on it…and a few other ornaments. As I remember there were two lengths of colored light bulbs. Man, it was a big deal to me when it was finished.
I always had a sense of regret on Christmas Eve because you wait all year for that day, that moment, when you open gifts…and then it was gone in the matter of an hour, not to come again for an entire year. And don’t you agree…the years passed far more slowly back then?
I had a great sense of the sacrifice that Mom and Dad made for the sake of Christmas. We didn’t have money and there’s was always a twinge of guilt when you got something that you knew stretched the household budget. As I got older there were purchases that became a thing of shared responsibility. Some will remember that I grew up playing a trumpet in the high school band, the Ohio State marching band, and I played that horn to a music degree from OSU. But the first instrument that I owned I bought with my own silver dollar collection that took me better than a decade to amass.
I thought of all these things, and all those days, as I strolled through the department stores last week…Von Maur, Brooks Brothers, Nordstroms, and yes…Dick’s. For old times sake I took a new Rawlings baseball glove from the box and slipped it on my hand. I flexed it and sniffed the unmistakable aroma of new baseball leather. I remember that they were made in St. Louis back then, and stamped “Made with American Steer Hide”. Now they’re made in the Phillipines and with synthetic materials to make them lighter and cheaper. But still, I felt like a kid again – what a luxury it felt like to actually experience something you could only know about from a catalog.
It made me a bit melancholy – OK, sad – to think of the years that had passed, the change of attitudes as you age, and the things now that we take for granted. I walked in the house that evening ‘midst a pile of boxes delivered from UPS and Federal Express, equal numbers for each family member because that’s the standard of modern culture. It doesn’t matter anymore if you’re naughty or nice – rich or poor.
We don’t wish for anything now, we just buy – or feel guilty if you don’t. There is no waiting anymore, no disappointment. There isn’t much magic.
And, there is no Montgomery Ward.