When we were young, the wishes were easy. You’d sprawl out on the living room floor with the 600-page Sears catalog and a pad of paper and go to town. Metal shoe skates, Hot Wheels, an Easy-Bake Oven, paper dolls, the Walkie-Talkie set with a Morse code button to send secret messages. Ballerina Barbie with the tiny gold crown, Chatty Cathy, Baby Alive — oh, how desperately I wanted the doll that ate and drank from a bottle, until the year I got one, and when the packets of doll food ran out, I pushed real food into the doll’s mouth and then hid her in my closet, where, after a few months, well, you can imagine what a sight that was…
Then, the wishes changed, grew up. A World Book Encyclopedia set, a telescope, a Casio digital watch, a Princess phone with the glow-in-the-dark dial, a wool dress coat for church.
Later still came the practical wishes. The ones that were less about want and more about need. The hand-me-down coffee table for your first apartment, a can opener, the start of an orange-and-yellow Pyrex collection, a socket-wrench set from General Hardware. Money. The envelope palmed by your dad as you walked out the door. A twenty tucked in a card. When groceries were tight and rent was scarce, that gift meant the world, kept you from freezing for one more month.
Then, wishes got harder.
Now, things that mean something don’t come from a catalog, and I have to wonder, what would I ask for if I could sprawl out on the living room floor again and make my list?
Maybe I’d ask for a recipe, nothing fancy, written on an index card, one that was my mom and dad’s favorite. Friday night was shrimp night — it’s what my mom said to Daddy the night we held his hands in the hospital, just before he died. “It’s shrimp night, buddy,” and then she kissed him on top of his head, and I did, too, before we both let go. Maybe one day, I’d like to make that meal.
Maybe I’d ask for a chocolate cake, the one my mother has been making for my birthday for 45 years, the one from the Ramseur community cookbook that my grandmother gave her on the first Christmas she and my dad were married.
Maybe I’d ask for a garden full of tulips like the ones that circled my grandmother’s backyard, brilliant color popping from the earth just when we can’t take anymore of the worst winter days; and maybe I’d ask for a stack of S&H Green Stamps that I could lick and paste into her Saver Book, the two of us counting our booklets and picking a prize together; and while I’m at it, how about a watch that winds time backward so that I can have another run at my old Schwinn, my beagle running alongside, ears flying; one more plate of my grandmother’s mashed potatoes and gravy; one more Christmas Eve in the den listening to Burl Ives sing “A Holly Jolly Christmas” on Channel 2 just before Santa Watch came on to tell the kids to go to bed, just before I got whisked up into the strong arms of my dad and tucked under my blanket, just before waking in the morning for blueberry muffins and bulging Christmas stockings and Mom and Dad downstairs, sleepy-headed but sitting side by side and beaming like the happiest people on earth to see that all my wishes — every one of them — had come true.