Despite my mother's best efforts to instill in her children the religious significance of the Christmas season, for my brothers and me it still had a lot to do with the presents.
We were a poor family, both my parents being lowly factory workers and at the mercy of a very unstable carpet industry. Work usually slacked off in the winter. Well do I remember my mom having to wait until the payday before Christmas - when she and Dad got their Christmas bonuses - before she could do her Christmas shopping. The crowds at the stores were maddening by then - the last minute rush - and most discouraging, she confided to me later, was the fact that by then "everything had already been picked over." My dad detested every aspect of it.
Despite all that we still managed to have memorable Christmases that my brothers and I discussed for many years afterwards.
Being poor made any gift special to me. One of my fond childhood Christmas memories was of the annual arrival of the Christmas catalogs. I poured over them for literally hours, pretending how nice it would be to have the various toys therein, trying to decide on an item or two I thought would make a nice a gift hint for my mother.
My favorite catalog, for some reason I don't now recall, was from a wonderful store we had near my hometown, Otasco Economy Auto. They always had a nice selection of things I wanted. When I was thirteen I saw an electric guitar, an off-brand, for $29.95 - cheap for a guitar even for 1973, but representing a huge portion of Mom's overall Christmas budget. Bless her heart, somehow she managed to get it for me and send me to Seventh Heaven.
Sears was another favorite catalog of mine. And my parents got the J. C. Penny catalog as well. These were massive "wish books" that a boy like me could literally lose himself in for hours at a time. And I did that.
Then one day a friend of mine introduced me to a store just blocks from where we lived. I was totally unaware of it's existence until that lazy Saturday when he took me there. Hamilton Distributors was the name and once inside it looked to me very like the Sears store out at the mall. And then he took me to a staircase near the back of the store, over which hung a brightly lettered sign that read: Toyland.
Boy, was it ever! Aisles and aisles of the popular toys of the day. Everything a young lad like myself could want, including bats, balls, baseball gloves, footballs, football helmets, and, I suppose, every board game in existence at the time. The wonderful thing about Toyland was the way it enabled me to actually handle and get a close up look at potential Christmas gift hints. (By the way, it was a great place to spend a lazy Saturday even when it wasn't Christmastime - I mourned Hamilton's passing as gravely as I did the passing of my first pet.)
All this seems a bit shallow now. But what do you expect from a child? One thought I did have frequently back in those days was this. I used to fantasize about being incredibly rich, to the point of being able to have all of these things I so wanted. It struck me even then that that might not be such a good thing. What would be left of life if I had everything? I enjoyed the ritual of seeing, wanting, wishing, hoping, and then seeing what I actually got.
Early on it seemed I learned what I believe is life's great lesson: Be content with what you get.