Looking through some old photo albums at my mother’s house, I came across one about which I had forgotten until recently. It was a photo of me sitting on the lap of a local Santa at the Sears store in downtown Corinth. Before I go into detail about the photo, however, let me wax nostalgic about Sears & Roebuck.
Sears was inextricably linked to the holidays for those of us of a certain age. As I recall, the Sears Wishbook arrived in rural mailboxes sometime in August, and the longest span of time each year crawled along for those few months, after which the pages of the catalog, in the hands of my contemporaries everywhere, were often tattered and earmarked.
Sears, perhaps, might have been the original Amazon, with a rotary-dialed telephone in lieu of a cyber device and the Internet. With a phone call and a little time, almost anything anyone could think of could be procured from the catalog center. I still feel a tinge of yearning anytime I pass by the building in downtown Corinth on Foote Street where the Sears store was once located decades ago.
I’m not sure of the year of the photo, but in it, I sit with a shy grin on my face, a skinny little girl with a boyish haircut, wearing dark blue jeans and a pink, floral-patterned long-sleeved t-shirt. I remember that December day. My dad and I went to visit Santa to tell him what I wished to receive on Christmas morning – all of which would come from a Sears distribution center.
In my memory, a helicopter dropped this particular Santa onto the streets of downtown Corinth, but I could be wrong. I don’t recall if I heard my parents talking about it, or if I simply figured it out on my own, but once I saw his face, I knew the true identity of this Santa.
“I think I know him,” I told my dad.
“Well, sure, you know him,” Dad said. “It’s Santa Claus.”
“No, I think I really know him,” I said. “It’s someone else,” I explained.
Although I wouldn’t acknowledge his actual identity to my father, I knew who it was. I saw the man every week at our small Southern Baptist Church in Acton, Tenn. His name was Sammy Washburn, and he stood in the pulpit every Sunday morning and delivered a sermon. His wife, a teacher, was Linda, and she taught us children in Sunday School and conducted activities on Sunday evening to keep us occupied during the adults’ Bible study. Mostly, the kids were me, their daughter Missy, their son Joel, and, later, their son Luke.
I can’t recall then if that moment was part of destroying my illusions when it came to Santa; perhaps it was. Anyway, when I look back at that tender young girl, full of innocence, it seems so long ago. Although I remember, in some ways, it doesn’t even seem like me. Oh, how I, obviously less than a decade old, thought I knew everything then – but, of course, I had so much more to learn.
I would love to hug that quiet, unsure, blue-eyed little girl and assure her that all would be fine, that the world wasn’t nearly as scary as it seemed at times, and when it happened to be, she could muster the strength to prevail. I would love to remind her that even when innocent or idealistic illusions get shattered, whether it’s Santa Claus or something else, it’s still acceptable to believe. That’s what we should all do for all of our little girls – and little boys – more than ever in a year of difficulty and uncertainty.
Looking back at the photo, I would love to return, even if only momentarily, to that time of innocence, sweetness, naiveté, but, even if I could do so, it would not be true or accurate to the intention of experience in life. Part of the process involves growth and reflection and learning – and loss, which is perhaps never more fully realized than during the holidays.
However, just for a moment, it was enjoyable to return in my memories, and today, when I run some errands in downtown Corinth, I plan to pass by the location of the old Sears store and reflect again on these special memories of the season, of Christmases past, and those who were once a part of them. Despite the differences we inevitably face this year during a pandemic, I do hope everyone has a memorable, special holiday season. And remember: it doesn’t matter who happens to be dressed as Santa, it is still important to believe.