Retro Holidays

Back in the 70’s the holidays were ruled by catalog showrooms like Sears, Montgomery Wards, and the big-dog around my house — Service Merchandise.

The ritual was to make note of when the catalogs arrived, which was pretty easy as they were the size of phonebooks, and then wait for mom to finish with them. Once the catalogs moved from the top of the coffee table to the shelf under it — it was game-on. See, mom would spend a few days looking through them and circling things with her customary red pen. Once she was done, I got my turn to ‘wish-list’ with whatever blue/black ballpoint was handy.

The trick here was to play the economics of Christmas. See, our father had fairly tight purse strings when it came to us kids, and we knew that the budget was somewhere in the $30-$50 range ($100-$150 in 2020), per kid, for presents. And when you’re a kid faced with a hundred pages of toys and you want to both get lots of stuff, but also that one “coolest thing ever!” you saw on TV, and you have around $40 to do it with — you can agonize over the catalogs for a solid week.

Our 70’s holidays were also supplemented by the yearly Christmas party put on by my father’s employer. It was held at the BPO Elks Lodge in Boulder the weekend before Christmas, and the company really did it up; bought fairly up-scale gifts for all of the kids, had a “Santa” on hand to give them out, catered a really nice meal for all of the families, and then gave every employee a turkey or ham for their Christmas dinner.

My sister and I had something of a silent competition when it came to gifts — seeing which of us would get the bigger ticket items. But when the 80’s rolled around I had an unfair advantage when it came to the Gift Wars as I was big into computers — as was my father. So it was slightly easier to score some expensive computational doohickey simply because my father would be interested in playing with it too.

But by the 80’s I was also in my teens, in junior/senior high, and Christmas was taking a back seat to hanging out with friends anywhere but home. This also meant my sister, being seven years my younger, was taking the family focus — so I guess it worked out for both of us.

Christmas also included my grandparents, and my Grandfather seemed to delight in antagonizing my overly protective mother with his unique brand of gifts…

In ’81 I got I got a six-inch stag handled Bowie knife with a tooled leather scabbard. I was 12 at the time, which in PawPaw’s opinion was the transition age to cigars and whiskey.

My father took possession of the knife and I never saw it again after that Christmas.

The next year, 1982, I got a rifle from my Grandfather; a .22 LR lever gun. I never got the chance to even touch that present, though it did hang above the mantle (with a trigger lock on it) through ’86 when I left for the Navy.

I think after the rifle every present my Grandfather sent was pre-screened before being put under the tree.

One gift I got from PawPaw before his passing is a 1971 Eisenhower silver dollar — and I still have it.

I remember him handing it to me and saying, “As long as you have this, you’re not broke.”

He wasn’t wrong. 🙂