When my sister Jeanne read this past Sunday’s post, she remembered her days of pouring through the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog with her siblings long before I was born. She also remembered the first Christmas with the man who became her real dad. Here are her musings…
Christmas before my Dad….
Prior to my mother’s marriage to Stormy’s father, our holidays were quite different. Our household consisted of a single mom and five wild kids. Mom worked days as a bookkeeper or waitress and evenings at a local tavern to support us. She was an extremely proud and independent person refusing government help so Santa gifts were simple but often supplemented by our wonderfully generous Salvation Army and the local firemen, who refurbished second hand toys which were then dropped at houses late December 24th. We didn’t really feel deprived because we lived in a post- war housing project for veterans and everyone was in the same boat.
However, in early 1950’s Mr Ferguson came into our lives. He was a tall quiet gentleman who met our petite raven-haired mom at his favorite bar where she pulled his pints and chatted up the regulars. Dad had never been married and his partial deafness meant he often kept to himself but amazingly he was not put off by her rowdy brood. Instead he arrived that first cold snowy Christmas morning with his arms piled high with brightly wrapped boxes each tied with colorful bows. We were stunned.
This long time bachelor had purchased games, dolls, ping pong pump guns, books, drawing supplies etc. wonderful fancy new toys. But best of all Mr Ferguson not only laid on the floor to play games with us but later laughing chased my brothers around the house shooting each other with ping pong balls. This sweet giant man become one of the kids, so later when a pin pong ball landed in the middle of one of mom’s homemade pumpkin pies we squealed with delight when the culprit was dad.
What a wonderful first Christmas with Mr Ferguson. And subsequent holidays were also fun, gift and memory filled. When Mom would chide him for buying too many gifts, dad would respond with, “money is to spend to make folks happy”. Dad had been an orphan and family was special for him. He proved to be the best Santa five raggedy kids could hope for. And we loved him.
When I was a child, my siblings and I looked forward to the arrival of the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog with great anticipation. When it arrived, we would flop on the living room floor and page through that massive wonder until many pages were dog eared and some falling out. I could spend hours looking through it to search for the items that could fulfill my Christmas dreams.
Decades later our sons would spend hours leafing through catalogs and providing Mr. Smith and me with their Christmas lists. I wish I had saved them all, but I do have their lists from 2001. As they grew older, they usually asked for music and clothes and these lists were no exception. Except for Emmet. His wishes were for a Ford Escape and a pony. Sadly, for him, he received neither.
I’m not a part of the grandparent mindset that believes grandchildren are for spoiling. A vast amount of love, yes, but vast amounts of gifts, no. One gift I will always give without guilt is books, so I was pleased when Eleanor’s father forwarded me The 2019 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books article. At age two, Eleanor hasn’t begun sending us Christmas wish lists, but I hope she’ll enjoy the books we chose from this list.
While the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog may be a thing of the past, there is no shortage of current Christmas catalogs. During our recent visit with our grandchildren, history repeated itself with a new generation of munchkins flopped on the floor pouring over the colorful, enticing catalogs.
Having raised three sons and shopped for more Transformers, Ninja Turtles and He-Man figures than you can shake a stick at, I was thrilled to enter the glittery world of Christmas shopping for granddaughters. They are a diverse and delightful crew with Christmas wishes running the gambit from Harry Potter, American Girl, Fancy Nancy, Legos, books, art supplies and more. Our girls are as happy building a fort as they are having a tea party so it’s next to impossible to get them something they don’t like. I will be careful not to stereotype, case in point, our newest bundle of energy granddaughter has forgone the world of pink for Coco Chanel black.
I believe my grandsons have enough Legos to build me a grandma pod in their back yard should I ever need one, and I had promised myself Mr. Smith and I weren’t going to buy anymore Legos. Yet every birthday and Christmas, the boys always ask for Lego sets. While grappling with whether to stick to my guns or grant their Christmas wish, I remembered some words of wisdom I received years ago from an old friend in Kendallville. Amy’s two daughters are the same ages as my two oldest sons and we shared many a parenting challenge through the years. When one of my sons wanted an expensive class ring, my first instinct was to say no. I had a class ring back in 1972, gave it to some boyfriend and never saw it again. I viewed buying a class ring as a waste of money, something they wouldn’t care about a few years down the road. Amy told me “Just because it won’t be important later, doesn’t mean it’s not important now.” Her words stuck with me, a little reminder to perhaps consider my son’s wishes more thoughtfully. I’ve carried these words of wisdom with me through the years and they have reminded me to listen more carefully and to take my time responding.
When we asked our grandsons what they wanted for Christmas, we didn’t ask what they wanted that grandpa and grandma would find acceptable. We simply asked them what they wanted for Christmas. During the years our boys were growing up, I tried to impress upon them that when you are giving a gift, you should endeavor to give the recipient something they truly want, not something you want them to have. How could I object to giving a gift that would provide a few hours of reading, following directions, and building something amazing? The grandsons are getting Legos for Christmas.
With Christmas just over five weeks away, my holiday shopping is in full swing. I do much of it online, but still take pleasure in meandering the stores, checking out the seasonal decorations and taking advantage of being able to see items up close and personal. I’m planning a day trip into New York City soon to peruse the holiday fairs, museum shops and the new Nordstrom. This trip will be an opportunity to fill in any gaps on Mrs. Santa’s list, and hopefully find something for the fabulous Mr. Smith. He hasn’t given me a wish list and I’ve yet to see him flopped on the living room floor paging through catalogs, but 42 years of familiarity should help me pick just the right thing.
I’ve always loved this little poem. I remember learning it from my older siblings and feeling quite clever when I could recite it on my own. Today this Wednesday’s child is full of woe. Mr. Smith and I arrived back in Wilkes Barre late afternoon on Monday. I had woken up with a sore throat that morning but decided it would be gone when I woke up on Tuesday. I had many projects I wanted to tackle and I’m lousy at taking time out to be sick. Unfortunately, my sore throat won and I woke up Tuesday feeling quite miserable. Not bad enough to justify staying in bed, but not feeling like hitting the gym and conquering the world. So I napped a little, made a pot of soup, and finished addressing my Christmas cards.
I did also make it down to the mailroom for the mail. While there were only four catalogs in my mailbox yesterday, it’s clear that the Christmas shopping season is in full gear. Check out my blog on Sunday for my musings on Christmas shopping for my grandkids.
I will remember 2019 as the year of the road trip. I have logged many hours and miles across Pennsylvania and Ohio and down to Washington D.C. I spent time with my sister and my mother-in-law, I connected with an old friend, and spent an almost dangerous amount of time alone with my own thoughts as I drove along I-80. My favorite road trips are definitely ones that include time with my grandchildren and happily our most recent trip was all about the grandkids.
Grandkid palooza started out with a visit with our youngest grandchild, Eleanor. One of the advantages of being the youngest grandchild is inheriting the toys your cousins have outgrown. She was more than happy to be the recipient of a plethora of duplos! Thanks guys.
The other big news in Eleanor’s life is there is now a piano in the home. Grandpa Bud’s piano has arrived at its new home where it will be well loved. I have a strong suspicion that Eleanor and her father will spend many happy hours here.
Then it was on to Maryland to visit our grandsons and celebrate their parents’ 14th wedding anniversary. Life has been beyond busy for all the adults involved so we decided to keep it simple and order pizza for dinner. I did want a way to involve my grandsons in the celebration of their parents anniversary so I decided to bake a cake and teach them how to make a heart shape out of a square and a circle. I arrived in Maryland with my cakes ready to roll. I asked the boys what the official symbol of love is and they replied it was a heart. Since I had baked a square and a circle ,I asked them how were we going to get a heart. They were all set to do some “cake carving” but as soon as I cut the circle in half they knew what to do to make the square into a heart. They then got busy making some banners and cards to decorate our masterpiece.
I was a little surprised when the nine-year old twins started talking to me about doing a crumb coat on the cake! Kids Baking Championship has given them the lingo but they may still need to fine tune their technique. Nonetheless, their parents were delighted with the heartfelt, finished project. And yes, I too believe their parents were meant for each other.
We ended the evening with a fire in the new fire pit. The night was clear and cool with the smell of wood smoke in the air. The perfect end to a fine day.
Before we knew it we were off to the land of girls. Elliot and Becky headed out for 24 hours of R&R and Mr. Smith and I settled in with Olivia, Emily and Elizabeth. First on the agenda was taking the girls to dance class. While we spent many years hauling boys to karate, taking girls to dance class is a new adventure for Mr. Smith and me. Elizabeth may not have all the moves down pat, but she’s full of enthusiasm and cute as a button.
After lunch at Pizza Hut, it was back home for an afternoon of crafting. We made cinnamon applesauce cut outs that are making the house smell cozy and festive.
While our cutouts were in the oven, the girls moved on the creating some adorable masterpieces from a Cheerful Chipmunks Kit. They’re pretty sure their parents will be impressed with their creativity.
Tomorrow Mr.Smith and I will head back to Pennsylvania and settle back into our daily routines, all the while cognizant that Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. Wilkes Barre has already started decorating for the holidays, taking advantage of a mild day last week to put up festive wreaths. Soon the tree in the town square will be up and the holiday fairs and celebrations will be in full swing. My goal is to embrace the season and savor the moments and not get caught up in my to-do list. I will play my favorite Christmas music while I wrap gifts and bake Christmas treats. I will light candles, add some Christmas greens and sip a glass of wine. I’m 64 years old and know that “perfection” is highly overrated. What’s not overrated is holiday fun with friends and family and I plan to have some fun.
In addition to trying to cut back on my consumer consumption in general, I’ve tried to cut back on the number of magazines I subscribe to, but it feels like every other day there’s another magazine stuffed into my mailbox. Either a grandchild is selling subscriptions as a fund raiser or my sister sends me her “gift” subscription and before you know it, the issues are piling up. Sometimes I feel guilty because I feel like there’s never enough time to read them all and they end up getting neglected.
Last Wednesday afternoon found me sitting in my favorite reading spot taking some time out of my day and spending it with one of my many magazines. And that magazine was the November issue of National Geographic, WOMEN, A Century of Change. All contributing writers, photographers and artists are female. The issue is chockful of photographs and interviews women from all walks of life and highlights the female voice throughout history.
In reading the issue, I was particularly taken by a quote from Christine Amapour, chief international correspondent for CNN:
The most important challenge is still being considered second-class citizens, and the most important thing for us is to get men on our side, period. This has to be something that men help us with, it’s not a question of just swapping who’s dominant. We’re not looking for female dominance, we’re looking for equality and to level the playing field – and we can’t do that without men’s buy-in as well.
Women have always made important contributions to our society, they just haven’t always been given the credit. Hedy Lamarr, Ada Lovelace, and Rosalind Franklin are just a few of the women who made brilliant discoveries only to have them stolen by greedy men who took all the credit, published them in journals, won prizes for them and earned millions of dollars from them! I’m hoping that my grandchildren growing up today with women visible as scientists, lawyers, doctors, Supreme Court justices, athletes and in every other walk of life, will have no doubt in their minds that men and women are equals and celebrate the accomplishments of ALL people.
National Geographic was started in 1888 by 33 men of science and letters who gathered in a wood-paneled club in Washington DC and voted it into existence. There was not a single woman in the room. Since its inception the magazine has had ten editors. The current editor is Susan Goldberg. Ms. Goldberg is the first woman editor and in her November Letter from the Editor promised to “…aim to bring more women’s lives into the light – and more women’s voices into the conversation…”
I’m hoping you get an afternoon to spend some time with this amazing issue. And I’m hoping Ms. Goldberg keeps her promise.
The calendar says it’s the first Sunday in November and as Mr. Smith and I drive I-80 across Pennsylvania and Ohio, the fall foliage agrees. We’re on a mini-vacation which includes visits with all our grandchildren. Mr. Smith is doing the vast majority of driving, so I am free to admire the fading fall colors and let my mind wander. As well as thinking about some plans for the approaching holiday season, I reflected on the past couple of months and decided I wanted to provide a recap of my life in the not so fast lane!
I just finished reading The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman. It takes place in Nazi-occupied France between 1941 and 1944. Following the lives of three young women and their struggle to survive, the main theme for me was the strength of a mother’s love. The book weaves history and myth. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it since myth and folklore aren’t genres I normally gravitate towards. Hoffman’s writing is so beautiful I was able to suspend my belief system and accept the premise of the story. I believe it is well worth your time to read.
Next up for me is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I read it many years ago with my book group back in Indiana and now I’ll be reading is with My Three Son’s Book Group. It will be a fine read from my perch up in my nest, while watching for the first snowflakes to fall.
Recently on a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon, Mr. Smith and I decided we needed to blow the stink off and get out of the apartment. We grabbed our umbrellas and headed out to the movie theater to see Downton Abbey. We had enjoyed the series and decided an afternoon our old friends Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and all the others would be as comforting as a cup of tea and a biscuit. While it had its moments, I agree with Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times, “Lacking the nutritious story lines of the past, the movie is mainly empty calories.” My favorite scene is near the end and involves the Dowager Countess played by the marvelous Maggie Smith. For those who haven’t seen the movie, I’ll leave it at that.
A couple of weeks later, Mr. Smith and I were faced with another rainy, gloomy Sunday afternoon. But this time we were happy to stay in, pop some popcorn and watch On the Basis of Sex. We’re a little behind on our movie watching as this movie came out last year but I’m so glad we’re catching up! If you haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend it. The movie is based on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early legal career and her fight against sex discrimination. Her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, wrote the script. Some reviewers thought the movie didn’t do justice to Justice Ginsburg, but I thought it was fascinating to see her start her journey towards being the notorious RBG! By the way, RBG has seen the movie three times. I might do that also.
My Best Friend
I thought you might enjoy a little update on my best friend! Rest easy that we are still as close as ever. Mr. Smith and I needed to deliver a tub of building blocks to our granddaughter Eleanor on our road trip. With rain forecasted for the day we were going to leave, I wanted to get them loaded into the car the night before. With Mr. Smith at work, I again called on my friend and she came through for me. The tub was too heavy for me to lift, so I simply loaded the majority of blocks into a bag in the cart and then we were off to the elevator. I think it’s time that I take my loyal friend out for a pedicure.
If you check back on Wednesday, I’ll tell you about my favorite November 2019 issue magazine!
Are you ready for Halloween tomorrow? Do you have a big bowl of candy ready for all the trick or treaters who will be appearing at your door? Even though I’ve never been a huge fan of Halloween, the sight of all the little ghosts, witches, princesses and superheroes running up and down our street back in Indiana always made me smile. Except for the teenagers, I had a hard time with kids bigger than me who couldn’t be bothered to come up with a costume wanting a treat.
Since leaving Indiana, we have not had one trick-or-treater. Our building is locked, you have to be buzzed in, so it just doesn’t work. I must not be the only one missing the little ghosts and goblins. A neighbor down the hall has a festive wreath on their door and a cauldron of trick-or-treat candy out for grabs in a nod to the holiday.
Luckily I have grandchildren and parents who send me photos of them in costume.
I hope you have a wickedly fun Halloween. And watch out for black cats…