Everyone I have known named Shirley has been important to me. My mother’s name is Shirley. I have good friends named Shirley. I always liked Shirley Temple (don’t judge).
A few weeks back, I received a lovely letter from a lovely lady who lives down south. She included recollections of her childhood and I, of course, enjoyed reading it immensely. I called this lady, named Shirley, on the phone to thank her for her letter. I am always thankful for people who take the time to drop me a line about my column.
My new friend Shirley was born in the early 1930s. She grew up during the 1940s and recalls life on the farm with fondness.
I can remember putting our Christmas tree up in the early 1970s. I’m pretty sure my moth- er waited until a few days before Christmas. Plus, the tree came down quickly after the holiday and everything was swept up and polished clean for the new year.
Shirley also remembers putting up the tree. When she was a little girl, she would go to bed on Christmas Eve. When she awakened in the morning, she found a brightly decorated tree in the corner of the living room, complete with glowing candles. You see, Santa had brought the tree with him, put it up, and deposited the contents of his pack under the tree. I’m thinking that would have been a pretty neat surprise.
Speaking of the contents of that sack; well, Santa was a little more selective and frugal in those days.
“I got a doll and a stocking filled with candy, an orange, and nuts. One year must have been a good year on the farm because I received a doll, a doll buggy, and a set of doll dishes,” Shirley reminisced. “I still have those dishes.”
Like many of us, Shirley is astounded and wonders about the amount of “stuff” we have cluttering up our lives these days — especially when it comes to kids and their toys.
“I go to yard sales and can’t get over the amount of toys kids get nowadays; boxes full that they have received and outgrew.”
Indeed. I can honestly tell you some of the toys my kids have received have only been played with for a little while. Many wind up being sold at rummage sales or given to second-hand stores. I wish I had the money back that we’ve spent on unpopular or discarded toys. I could retire early, probably.
I find blocks, cars, dolls and all the other old toy room “staples” like balls, toy food and dishes are played with the most. Much of the toys that were once popular are still popular today. Stuffed animals seem to run rampant in a house. Everywhere you look, stuffed animals of all shapes, sizes, and garish tackiness are being sold.
“I had one stuffed bear I probably got as a baby,” Shirley told me. Me too. I still have my old teddy bear and a bedraggled old stuffed dog with red ears. I’m sure I had other stuffed animals, but those were the only two I remembered. I would have been happy with only those two, anyway.
Like Shirley, I don’t know when the trend started in which kids were showered with gifts. Every kid has to have the same amount of gifts to open. Parents feel two or three (or four, five or six) gifts simply aren’t enough to open. People post photos on Facebook with wrapped gifts stacked to the ceiling.
I am certain I had more toys than Shirley when I grew up in the 1970s. I remember getting a pedal tractor, a little television, board games, my beloved matchbox cars, and various other things when I was a kid at Christmas.
I was blessed. I know, at times, I was an ungrateful little boy who wanted more. We were by no means poor, but my parents did not believe in loading us up with stuff. Today, I am more than grateful for that.
I am wondering what Christmas would be like if children only expected a special treat or two in a stocking and then a couple of gifts.
What if getting together with family, having a special meal with treats only made at the holidays, and just being together was enough? How would that change us? Would we indeed focus more on the birth of Jesus? Would we experience joy without the stuff?
Shirley summed it up with some final remarks in the letter: “No complaints. I was a happy child. That’s the way things were back in the Depression years. We had plenty to eat; my playmates were a dog, many cats, and a pet rooster.”
I don’t know about you, but the recollections of this dear lady warm my heart. I’m so very thankful to print her words in my little corner of the paper this week.
On a personal note to you, Shirley: you closed your letter by saying that I could “discard, use part of, or whatever.” Well, I want to tell you I will tuck your letter away and treasure it. Thank you for writing to me.
Merry Christmas, Shirley. Leave some cookies out on one of your little doll dishes… just in case.