One of the great Advent pleasures was going up to my grandmother’s house in Virginia and looking at the Sears catalog. It was practically the size of my torso, and Sissa and I would lie on the floor, pens in hand, and pore over every page, circling the things we wanted. We giggled and flipped quickly past the underwear. We spent a long time staring at the hunting accessories, wondering why anyone would voluntarily participate in an activity that required wearing tubing down your leg and a plastic bag that would get filled with pee.
Every year Mom would fuss at us for circling baby toys, but they looked so appealing, those brightly colored photographs. We would spend the whole weekend paging through and circling, crossing out and circling again.
One year (1978-ish, I think), there was a set of matched outfits that I just died for: pants, a couple of skirts, a couple of blouses, a vest, and a jacket. Some of them were burgundy and some were a tan and burgundy plaid. One of the blouses had a tied collar, and the other had ruffles down the front. The jacket was made of velveteen. I crossed out all the toys and doodads and said those clothes were the only things I wanted, for both my birthday AND Christmas.
Didn’t get them for my birthday. Didn’t get them for Christmas. I don’t remember what I received, but I remember that there were some very nice things, and I fought not to be upset. Late in the day, my mom took me aside.
“I got a letter from Santa,” she said. “He wants you to know that he tried really hard to get that outfit for you, but he couldn’t.” I asked why he couldn’t make it. “I don’t know,” she said. “But he really did try to get it for you.”
Months later, after The Santa Talk, she told me that she, my aunts, and my grandmother had called every Sears in North Carolina and Virginia and that the outfit had been sold out everywhere. In desperation, she even got the New England side of the family to try to find it, with no luck.
My disappointment evaporated. Forget the clothes: those people love me. They went way out of their way, from Thanksgiving until Christmas, just to try to get me a present that I wanted. What I got was a better present.