Arrival of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Christmas specialty catalog late in the fall was almost as good as Christmas itself. Although it carried a little of everything found in the thick annual catalog, toys were prominent. I knew not to expect a bundle of toys from any source, but I could dream.
I learned from the catalog what the most popular toys of the year were. How else could a body find out? Maybe Shirley Temple dolls and G.I. Joe figures were in dime store windows in town; but there was no television for promotion and descriptions over the radio came to life only by means of pictures in magazines—and the catalog.
I would study every visible detail that the illustrations showed. Turning through the pages over and over again, I soon could imagine what it would be like to hold certain toys in my hand, incorporate them into my solitary playtime, and enjoy board and card games with my playmates when they came around.
I let it be known to my parents what I liked most as I studied the catalog, but I do not remember actually asking for particular items. By the time I understood how a catalog worked, I also understood how much work it took to make money that had to be exchanged for items on its pages. But I still could dream. The catalogs were rightly nicknamed “wish books.”
A big part of Christmas was the surprise within packages underneath the home-harvested cedar tree. Therein was a problem with mail-ordering. My father would need to make a special trip to the mailbox after I had boarded the school bus so I would not know that an order had been sent. If an order was for milk strainer pads, a tin box of salve or a packet of seeds of a new variety of tomato, I would be handed the envelope and three cents for the stamp to put in the mailbox before I got on the bus.
When the best guess for order delivery was calculated, someone had to go to the mailbox before my school bus brought me home, because on ordinary days I was to bring the mail as I walked down the lane.
My parents pulled off the surprise several times, to my delight. It mattered not that a sweater or a dictionary took the place of a toy.
I am continually touched by the memory associated with one certain spring/summer edition of the Sears specialty catalogs. Miscellaneous items were pictured in color on the slick front cover, one of which was a white ten-inch-tall plastic flower vase with raised star patterns all over. Inside the catalog were instructions for ordering, of course.
The next time my mother placed an order for essentials and it was delivered by R.F.D. (Rural Free Delivery), that vase was included in the package. She had splurged! No one said a word. She was fulfilling her role to bring beauty to our home. Important.
I still use the vase, but no matter what I am putting in it, I’m remembering dogwood blossoms from the woods, Queen Anne’s lace from the fencerows, giant zinnias cut from the long cultivated row in the garden and iris blossoms from the bed in the front yard.
Thank you Sears, Roebuck & Co. for the memories.