Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Before the Wishlist. The Beatles! and Tales of Yesteryear

By Kay Kendall

Ah, the ease of the online wish list. I battled against the concept for years. But I finally succumbed.  What I GAINED: several hours of my precious time. What I LOST: the joy of watching loved ones delighted by their surprise gifts. If you are a boomer (as I am), then you recall when gift-giving before the wish list hit the scene. You tried to surprise the gift recipient—to surprise and delight. My joy of gift giving and wrapping came from my maternal grandmother who reveled in every aspect of gifting. 

In my boomer youth, I watched her decorate packages imaginatively. She could have hired on for Neiman Marcus—a store back in the day that did elegant and fanciful wrapping. (Their efforts today are a sad, pale imitation, fie!) What my grandmother could not do—not to save her very soul—was to keep her gifts a secret. She got so excited that she just had to give you hints--hints so major you could easily figure out what your gifts would turn out to be. I took such pleasure in her enjoyment that I didn’t mind.

Maybe telling Santa what you wanted for Christmas grew into the concept of wish lists. Yet today's wish list has more power. Woe to you if you give someone under-forty a present not on his or her wish list. I fought against wish lists until a dear friend said she gave up trying to surprise her offspring with delightful gifts. Finally she switched to the dreaded wish list or gave gift cards. Otherwise her grandchildren and children were chagrined. That’s how I discovered my offspring was participating in a societal shift. A generational difference, clear and simple. And so . . . I threw in the towel. But I remember a different time. I recall a December when I was a graduating high school senior. I wanted Beatle albums and 45s. When asked what I wanted for Christmas, “Beatles please” was my instant answer. My ONLY answer.

Meantime my mother and grandmother were in the kitchen making cranberry loaves, fudge, and mounds of cookies...all the while talking about the Christmases of their youths. My mother said she’d been pleased with mandarin oranges and pecans in the toe of her Christmas stocking, back in the 1930s. My grandmother recalled helping her mother go into the farmyard in Ohio and select a goose for neck twisting, in the first decade of the twentieth century--the holiday meal to be! I loved their quaint tales of the good old days. (Probably these stories helped grow my lust for history.)

When the morning of December twenty-fifth dawned. I went into the living room with my parents (I, an only child, admittedly a tiny bit or more spoiled). I had expected to call this my very own Beatles Christmas. But no. Arrayed beside the brightly lit tree was a set of three luggage pieces.

“You’re going off to college next year,” Delight shone in Mother’s eyes. “We knew you needed nice suitcases.” I tried to murmur sincere thanks while eyeing other presents. Where were the telltale signs of even one 33-long-play album? But John, Paul, George, and Ringo were nowhere to be found. All was not lost however. My paternal grandparents sent a check that I promptly cashed and turned into two longed-for Beatles albums. But, oh, I still recall the rush of emotion, the dramatic upheaval.

Things are so different now in the high season of gift giving. Well something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day. That’s the way the song goes, Joni Mitchell’s beloved “Both Sides Now.”

So then, what’s your opinion of the wish list phenomenon? What do you remember about gift giving and receiving in the “good old days?” What’s the routine at your house? I’d sure love to know.


Meet the author

Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and now writes mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff. In 2015 Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville. Visit Kay at her website <>or on Facebook <>



  1. I miss that. I really enjoyed the fun of trying to figure out great gifts for each person on my list. I'm part of the on-line family list, too. It takes the fun out of it. Great article.

  2. LYNN McPherson, I agree. The fun leaches out of gift giving. But I guess we must move with the times...sigh...
    Anyway, I am glad you enjoyed my blog post. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!