The wish book

By Robert St. John

As a child I started thinking about what I wanted for Christmas around the Fourth of July. I reached a certain age where I was old enough for my mother to take me to her friends’ houses when she went for cocktails but not old enough to stay home alone and trusted not to wreck the place. It was during those visits to my mom’s friends’ homes that I did my best Christmas dreaming.

My mom was a recent widow and a lot of the neighbors seemed to make a special effort to invite her over for scotch, cigarettes and French onion soup dip and chips. While the adults smoked and drank in the living room, I was allowed to roam around the house at my leisure. Maybe I wasn’t allowed, but it’s what I did.

Many of my mom’s friends had children that were substantially older than me, and every one of those teenager’s rooms was filled with wonder for an eight-year-old boy. It was at Mamie Lee and Pete Jones’ house — while my mom was visiting in the other room — that I first discovered Beatles’ albums. The only Beatles’ music I had been exposed to at that time was a 45-single of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” a babysitter had given me (certainly one of the greatest gifts I have ever received, and for no occasion). In the Jones’ living room they had a record player that was as large as a sideboard filled with records of the day. I never minded going over to the Jones’ house because it was all Beatles all the time.

It was at the Ferrell’s house that I was first turned on to the music of The Who and Mad Magazine. If the house my mom visited to have cocktails contained old, grandparent-aged people, there was usually nothing much to discover, so I would play outside with their dog or one of the neighbor’s dogs. Which, even still, was better than going to the beauty parlor and sitting in a chair while she and the other clients sat under those hair dryer domes.

 If my mother was going to visit her friends the Dodders, I was probably in the front seat of the old yellow Plymouth before she could walk out of our back door. The Dodder house was an elementary-aged boy’s wonderland. Upstairs there were three teenagers’ rooms who were never at home, and I was free to roam. Actually, I’m not sure if I was free to roam, but I roamed, nonetheless. The first time I ever heard Led Zeppelin was in one of those rooms. The album was Led Zeppelin III, and the song was “The Immigrant Song” and it was the coolest thing I had ever heard.

Though the zenith of childhood rummaging and snooping was in the Dodder’s den, in a cabinet, under the television. That is where they always kept last year’s Sears Christmas catalogue, appropriately titled, “The Wish Book.” While the grown-ups were drinking and whopping it up in the living room, I was in the den watching Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and thumbing through last season’s Sears Wish Book while dreaming of all the things I wanted Santa to bring for Christmas. 

It could have been during the dog days of mid-summer in South Mississippi, but I was studying last year’s catalogue, page by page, with a feverish focus. That Christmas catalogue, which was issued every year, probably only had a toy section 12-pages long, but that was toy central for an eight-year-old kid whose main exposure to such fun-sized stuff was three shelves at the Ben Franklin Five and Dime and two shelves at the drug store next door. 

My kids got the benefit of Toys R Us. Today’s kids have a world of toys to dream about on the World Wide Web. We had the Sears catalogue. There were all manners of things for a young boy to dream about in that book, and I was always grateful that the Dodders held on to the previous year’s issue.

We never had a Sears Christmas catalogue at our house that I can remember. I’m not sure why that was, and I’m just now realizing it. Also, I don’t remember ever being gifted anything out of that catalogue. Though Santa did leave a ventriloquist’s doll under the tree one year. It was a little creepy and the string that was attached to his mouth from an opening in the doll’s back broke after a few weeks, so the dummy ended up doing a better job of keeping his lips still than I did while trying to learn ventriloquism from the instructional album and booklet that was enclosed.

What I really wanted was a minibike. A couple of kids in the neighborhood had one and they seemed to have much more freedom and fun than my Schwinn Stingray provided. The movie Easy Rider had been released a year earlier and my friend Stan had a poster of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on his wall. I can remember thinking if I could just get that Sears minibike and a brown leather jacket with the fringe (I desperately wanted one of those), and somehow figure out how to grow sideburns and a moustache, I would be the coolest guy in the neighborhood. None of that ever materialized. 

Though a year later I did order a set of fake sideburns out of the back of an Archie’s comic book and wore them to school in the fourth grade. I got sent to the principal’s office and he kept the sideburns.

These days I don’t do a lot of Christmas dreaming. I mostly enjoy giving. It’s way more fun. Though I still wouldn’t mind having one of those brown suede fringe jackets

May all your Christmas dreams come true.


Oyster Dressing

1/4 cup            Unsalted Butter

2 ounces          Andouille Sausage, very small dice

3/4 cups           Yellow Onion, small dice

3/4 cups           Celery, small dice

2 Tbl               Red Bell Pepper, fine dice

1 tsp                Garlic, minced

1/4 tsp             Salt

1/4 tsp             Poultry Seasoning

1/2 tsp             Black Pepper, freshly ground

1  tsp               Dried Sage

2 Tbl               Parsley, chopped

3 cups              Chicken Broth

3                      Large Eggs

2 cups              Oysters, shucked,

3 slices white bread, dried in a warm oven and crumbled

1 1/2 cups day old cornbread, crumbled

6 saltine crackers, crumbled

Preheat oven to 350.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the sausage for 5-6 minutes. Add the onions and celery and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often to prevent browning. Add the red bell pepper, garlic, salt, poultry seasoning, black pepper and sage. Continue cooking for 3 more minutes.

Remove from the heat and place mixture in a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped parsley, chicken stock and eggs and beat with a wire whisk until well blended. Fold in the oysters, crumbled white bread, cornbread, and crackers. Pour into 3 quart Pyrex baking dish and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and serve.


8-10 servings

(Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author.)