In the mid 70s, when every day was #Shoplocal in our small hometown of Benton, Illinois, Star Best, P.N. Hirsch and Woolworth’s were the stores of choice. Today’s Amazon arrived in the hands of excited children, like me, in the form of a Sears Roebuck or JC Penny catalog. As I lay on my grandpa’s family room floor, the colorful, sleek pages were earmarked with the hope that Santa would deliver my much-desired Mrs. Beasley doll.
My grandpa, a hard-working coal miner, loved Christmas. Each year he gave my mom one hundred dollars to spend on my grandmother at Star Best, an exclusive boutique on the square. My mom and grandmother sat aside a Saturday to drive up to Mt. Vernon and begin their holiday shopping. I was included. If they were going to Woolworth’s Department Store, they were not going without me. I loved walking through the store and seeing all the different items they had. The best part, if I behaved myself, was the grilled cheese and strawberry shake I would get at their restaurant for lunch. Mom and grandma always had to rush their shopping. If we were not back by two in the afternoon, Grandpa would be pacing the floor and looking out the window until we returned.
Packages from Sears and JC Penny arrived in the mail, hidden in closets, to be wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree. Finally, Christmas day was here! We each took a turn opening a package. After all the packages were opened, Grandpa would say, with a beaming grin, something like: “Now, I’m sure I saw something in the basement that Santa couldn’t put up here. Let me check.” Up from the basement he would come with a shiny new bike or some other big gift we had asked for. Grandpa also used the department store catalogs to put money in. My sister and I would go page by page to find one-dollar bills, fifty to sometimes one hundred total, hidden in their pages. Grandpa was never very affectionate, but after all the gifts were opened, my sister and I would give him a quick kiss on his shiny balding head. He never made a response, but I think he secretly liked the attention.
We each had stockings with our names on them. My grandpa did the Christmas socks even for the adults. We opened them last. The contained candy, Cracker Jacks and little gifts. My grandpa liked to play jokes. One year he put coal in my sister’s sock. “Were you not a good girl this year?” he asked her. She started crying. Grinning he said, “Wait. Santa made a mistake. Here’s your sock.” He pulled her real sock out from behind a hiding place.
Time changes things. Star Best, P.N. Hirsch and Woolworth’s are gone. Grandpa passed away several years ago. With his passing, Christmas was no longer the same. The beaming smile was no longer seen pulling gifts out of the basement. His laughter as a jokester no longer heard. You see, Christmas was never about the gifts, but about the person, my grandpa, who gave them out with such joy.