Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Robert St. John: The Wish Book

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 friend’s 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 friend’s 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 Magazines. 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 having to the beauty parlor and sit 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 teenager’s 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 was all manner 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 gifting 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 Archies 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.

Yield: 8-10 servings


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I also remember circling things in those catalogues as a kid. Didn't get everything of course, but still fun to do so and dream.

Anonymous said...

Sears and JC Penney catalogs were my first glimpse of women in their undergarments!

Anonymous said...

This may be the best RSJ column yet.

I'm roughly the same age as RSJ...and can relate to 97 percent of everything he described.

Anonymous said...

I poured over the Sear catalogue every year, too. Like others, I didn't get everything I wanted but I always got something that kept me happy till at least New Year's Eve. Thinking back, books and art supplies always provided longer enjoyment than a new doll. Our stockings were always filled with a new toothbrush, jacks with the red rubber ball, a tube of pick-up sticks, packs of Crazy 8, Rooks and Old Maid playing cards, Black Cat firecrackers and smoke bombs for New Years, walnuts, oranges and candies. Thanks for the memories, Robert.

I'm going to make 2 skillets of cornbread tonight so I can make the dressing on Friday. A pan of oyster dressing for me and a pan of sausage dressing for husband. I use leftover dressing to make roasted stuffed mushrooms the next day.

Anonymous said...

Charming commentary as always.....simpler times for sure. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Is there anything more boring that listening to a boomer opine about how good things were when they were young, before they fucked the entire planet up?

Anonymous said...

As a child visiting grandma’s house, the Sears Catalog was kept in the outdoor poop house and the “wishing” had nothing to do with Santa Claus.

Anonymous said...

Awesome story and one that brings back a lot of memories. We must be close to the same age. I was fortunate to have that mini bike (though used) and a fringed vest. Mini bike was confiscated by mom after badly crashing into her front shrubs and landscaping. It was then deemed to dangerous for an 11 year old! Thanks for sharing your personal stories. Those type are always the best!

Merry Christmas!

Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear said...

I have good memories of careful study of the Sears Christmas catalog. I would quickly thumb through the front half and get down to serious business when I reached the candy and nuts section, followed by the toys. So many of them to choose from!

Thanks for the memories, Robert.

Here are my contributions:

Almond Joy Cookies


1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
4 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups chocolate chips
2 cups sweetened coconut
2 cups chopped almonds


Pre-heat oven to 375°F Lightly grease cookie sheets.
Combine dry ingredients, set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, stir in the vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients until well mixed then stir in the chocolate chips, coconut and almonds. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Andouille Rice-Stuffed Pork Loin


1 4 1/2- to 5-pound boneless pork loin, trimmed and butterflied
Creole seasoning
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Andouille Rice, recipe follows
1 cup chicken stock or broth
1 tablespoon butter


Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Lay pork loin on work surface and season with Creole seasoning, salt and pepper. Spread andouille rice evenly on top.

Roll up lengthwise and tie with kitchen string at 3-inch intervals. Place pork seam-side down in a lightly greased, shallow roasting pan and pour 1/2 cup water into pan. Brush outside of pork with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F and continue roasting until internal temperature registers 145 degrees F, about 45 minutes more. Remove to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Skim fat from juices in roasting pan and place pan across 2 burners on stove over medium heat. Stir in broth; bring to a boil, scraping any browned bits from pan. Cook until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Whisk in butter and adjust seasonings.

Serve warm pan juices over roast.

Andouille Rice Recipe


2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 small bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell peppers
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces andouille sausage, casing removed
1 cup rice
2 1/4 cups chicken stock or broth
1 tablespoons Lea & Perrins
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper


In a medium saucepan over medium heat, make a roux by combining the oil and flour. Stir constantly until the roux is the color of milk chocolate.

Add onions, bell peppers and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic. Cook 2 minutes more.

Add sausage. Cook, breaking up sausage with a potato masher or the side of a spoon, until browned, 4-6 minutes. Add rice and stir for five minutes to toast. Stir in stock, Lea & Perrins, parsley, thyme and cayenne pepper.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until rice is tender, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Tonight I'm preparing KF's Egg Nog recipe.
It should be perfect by Christmas Day.

RSJ's Oyster Dressing would be a perfect side dish for Christmas dinner.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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