The decline of Sears as a mail-order retail company is sad for me for Sears, Roebuck and Company as we referred to it when I was growing up brought many happy holiday memories. We were no place near a Sears store where I grew up near Shenandoah in the Page Valley of Virginia. The Page Valley was a small valley created by the Massanutten Mountain range in the larger Shenandoah Valley. We did not need a store because the rural-route mail man brought the store to our home with an inches-thick catalog. You did not have to search long to find the merchandise of interest to you. You simply fanned through the pages until you found the right section. You were always up-to-date since a new catalog with the latest products arrived a couple of times each year. The pages of the old catalog could be folded in half resulting in a colorful round object that was heavy enough to be a door stop.
Near the holidays I would look forward with great anticipation to the arrival of the Sears Roebuck “wish book” that had the latest toys and gifts for the holidays. While it was less than half the size of the regular catalog, every page of the wish book had magical new toys to dream about and to wish for. The fact of the matter is that we ordered very few items from the regular catalog or from the Christmas catalog as it was officially known; we simply did not have the money to be able to afford these special gifts. That shortcoming did stop me from dreaming about the latest toy. For some I could find a way to craft them myself, or I could pretend that whatever I was playing with at the time was that new toy. I was kind of like what you see today when children seem to have as much fun playing with the boxes as with the new toys they receive.
We did get something for the Christmas holiday we were celebrating delivered by Santa Claus down an amazingly narrow chimney because we did not have a fireplace. The present from Santa was always a surprise even though I had prepared my wish list. One Christmas I asked for a roll-top desk just like the one Dr. B. C. Shuler sat at during our visits to him when we were sick. Much to my surprise on Christmas morning there was a roll-top desk beside the decorated cedar tree we had cut from the local woods and decorated. My desk was a fraction of the size of Dr. Shuler’s; in fact, it was so small that I could not put my legs under it. None the less, the top did roll up. It was close enough for my imagination. One Christmas I got membership in a science club. Every month for the next year I got in the mail a small cardboard box of directions and components for science projects. I build a crude but nonetheless working radio receiver, a radio transmitter (parts were interchangeable so you could only build one at a time), microscope and telescope from interchangeable lenses and cardboard tubes and much more.
These holiday remembrances are happy times. I have never felt sorry for myself or disappointed at the things I could not order from the Sears wish book. I can still feel the excitement of just looking at all those wonderful toys. The one or two gifts that Santa brought me provided me great joy. The focus was on what I got, not what I did not receive. I love Christmas and over the years I have come to realize that the greatest pleasure comes from giving rather than receiving.
Whatever your faith tradition or the holidays you celebrate, may you discover the joys of the simple and meaningful things of life and build remembrances that may make you feel blessed as I do at this beautiful season of the year.