Saturday, January 19, 2019
671 Pages of Everything
Watching the demise of Sears and Roebuck brought back memories of my childhood. At 6 years old, the Sears and Roebuck Catalog was my window to the world. I could sit for hours just going through the catalog. As a child, Sears was just a catalog and a small office downtown where Mama would go to pick up the items she had ordered.
As I grew up, my tastes changed, Google came along, and well . . . Sears was just a relic. I was never impressed by the retail Sears stores. It just wasn't the same as the imagination of an 8 year thumbing through 671 pages of "everything" in the world - at least my world.
But Sears and its catalog was a big part of American life for a long time. News Graphic wrote that the Sears catalog, "serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living." From the 1890's until 1993, the catalog offered everyone in America a "Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone and the "Cheapest Supply House on Earth", claiming that "Our trade reaches around the World."
And they were not kidding, 1898 Sears offered "Female Pills for Weak Women".
The 1902 catalog featured the "Giant Power Heidelberg Electric Belt" for men. Touted as "The most wonderful relief and cure of all chronic and nervous diseases."
The Fall catalog of 1909 offered - "The Sears Motor Buggy [boasting] speeds of up to 25 miles per hour and operation so simple even a child could do it."
And, chicks in 1942. Who knew?
And then there were the "fashions" of 1973.
But, tonics, cars, chicks, and fashions aside, my best memories of Sears was in the late fall when the Wish Book arrived - that magical book with every game, toy, and doll that ever existed in the world - well at least in my world. My brother and I would fight over the Wish Book, each of us circling our dream gifts with a blue pen. The corners of dozens of pages were turned down as place markers for treasures that we wanted to add to Santa's list.
One writer reminisced - "There were chapters on wrenches and telescopes, on air hockey and grandfather clocks; there were “Star Wars” action figures I never saw in actual stores, and screenshots of video games that I would never see again, and images of disturbingly cooperative families playing board games."
To this day, there is one item, actually an entire page, that I wished and dreamed of and pleaded for. I can remember it like it was yesterday - the Little Hostess Buffet. But, it was never to be. Neither Santa Claus nor my parents shared my enthusiasm. They could not relate to my "I'll just die if I don't get it" feelings. If I just had this incredible piece and all its accouterments, I would be set for life. Oh, the parties I could plan, the friends I could entertain, the tables I could set. But it was not to be. It never arrived.
Perhaps the price of $13.47 ($103.72 in today's world) had something to do with it.
To this day, I love to entertain, especially with china and crystal and silver. Looking back on that 1964 catalog, I'm not sure not getting my Little Hostess Buffet made me destined to imagine tablescapes, collect linen napkins, amass sets of China and sterling or, perhaps, my wish for such a "toy" was a prophecy of a life long enjoyment of entertaining.
Is yesterday's Sears Catalog today's Amazon? If so, maybe it is nostalgia, but having the catalog (often hidden beneath my bed to keep it from my brother) was much more rewarding than scrolling through screens and web pages. After all, it is hard to circle what I want on line with a blue Bic pen.