Wish Book

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MTT News's picture
Michelle Phillips

We would lie on the green, high-low, shag carpet and pore over the JC Penney Christmas Wish Book, my cousin, Angie, and I, not a care in the world, scheming what to ask for from Santa. I can still remember the prickly feel of the synthetic fibers on my elbows as we propped ourselves in front of the cozy, wood-burning stove. 

We had a system down, I, being older, came up with the plan to more efficiently express our need for items in the inch-and-a-half thick book. The smell of ink from its freshly printed pages emanating from the catalog. 

For our convenience, the toy section was separated out from the boring things like clothes and housewares. My system included either crayons or markers, whichever I could locate, a circling and exclamation point system, similar to stars on a movie review. And of course dogearing the pages. If the items happened to be of extreme importance and purchasing urgency, we would fold the page in half, lengthwise to warrant quick attention when a parent or grandparent picked it up. 

We would start at the very beginning of the toy section, first writing our names so that everyone would know which color to look for each child, and work our way to the end over the course of a couple hours. The first pass was simply to get an idea for options, with only a folded corners to start. Then the search took a more serious tone with the circling of items. The last step, the most arduous, was the exclamation point system and prioritizing the value of each request. 

Angie and I did not just limit ourselves to Barbie, Easy Bake Ovens and other girly items. We would also include sports and recreation gear like skis, bikes and skateboards. Boy toys like Hot Wheels and Stretch Armstrong were on the table as well, and I remember one of my favorite toys was Creepy Crawlers, a rubber insect making machine.

Once we had finished the process, we made sure to stick it smack dab in the middle of the coffee table at my house. It had to be in plain sight so everyone could gaze upon the fabulous items we had chosen that year. No subtlety of any sort could be risked during such an important time.

The JC Penney Christmas catalog was much like going to Amazon today. It was a vast cornucopia of items that you wanted and needed and those you never knew existed. If JC Penney wasn’t your style you could get a Sears or Montgomery Ward’s Christmas catalog, too. They all featured many of the same things with some variation to mix it up just a smidge. 

I started thinking about this ritual that Angie and I embarked upon each holiday season, starting as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers were gone, because of the Giving Tree at the YMCA. My husband, Matt, took a tag for a kid that wanted socks for Christmas. Others kids asked for utilitarian things like coats, boots, hats and gloves. 

My husband is obsessed with socks. He has socks of every material, weight and color to accommodate any activity. He went out and bought this boy a bag full of socks, 11 pair. This kid hit the sock jackpot when Matt took his tag.

As I packed them up in a single bag to be taken to the Y, I realized how lucky I was as a child. I never had to ask for things I needed for Christmas, only things I wanted. There were no coats, hat, or boots circled in the JC Penney catalog, only whimsical stuff that we wanted but could most certainly live without. 

I know there are many of us out there that still get what we want, not what we need as gifts. During the holiday season, and year round, I implore you to appreciate the things that you have and share your good fortune with those who have less. Especially as adults we tend to get caught up in a cycle wanting more and more, and forgetting that having what we need is most important in life. 

Later, in my teens, after I moved back in with my mother, I learned about asking for what you need, not what you want. In my younger years I had been insulated from the trials and tribulations of adult life, and this holiday season, I wish that every child can have something he or she wants. 

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