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Sears catalog was ‘our’ Amazon in the 1950s and 60s

by | Dec 13, 2023 | Latest, Opinion

As a young kid, I thought that every family did exactly the same things ours did. That included what and how we did Christmas.

Turned out, there were two ways to approach collecting your loot. That is to say, seeing what Santa brought.

One, which was more traditional, was waiting until Christmas morning like they do in the movies. The other was having all of the festivities on Christmas Eve.

I truly felt sorry for the kids who had to wait until Christmas morning, because at our house we did everything on Christmas Eve.

Santa always dropped by our house in Ashdown, Arkansas, before bedtime the night before Christmas. When all through the house, many creatures were stirring, but not a mouse.

We had a cat.

For some reason, St. Nick always popped by while my sister and I were away from home. Every time we either went visiting someone for eggnog or drove around with our grandmother looking at the lights, the jolly old fat man would have come and gone.

“You just missed him,” dad and mom would tell us after we returned from an excursion with our grandmother.

“He asked about you,” we were told. “We asked him to wait for you, but Santa said he had a lot of stops to make. He’ll try to catch you next year, or he’ll see you at Sears.”

Kids now have no idea the importance of the Sears and Roebuck Company back in the day.

Sears was a kid’s holiday lifeline. If you were a child of 1950s and 60s America, everything you could ever want, and all of the latest, greatest toys were available at Sears.

The Sears catalog was Amazon before there was Amazon.

When the Sears catalog arrived, there was arm wrestling, punching, and shoving to see who was going to get to look at it first.

And that was just the adults.

When the adults had finished going through the catalog, my sister and I would sit down at the Formica dinette table and carefully peruse each page of the kids’ section. We’d dog-ear any page that included an item we couldn’t live without.

One particular year there were some iconic toys that caught our eye, including the Hasbro offering, G.I. Joe.

Unlike these tiny things they call G.I. Joe today, the original Joe was tall, had working arms and legs, and hands that could hold a real fighting man’s protection.

Boys back then wanted an army toy that included rifles, pistols, grenade launchers, and other accoutrements befitting a doll that included a scar down the side of his face. This was when a man was a man. And so was a boy’s G.I. Joe.

Today, parents worry about whether their kid has a safe space to cry at school.

My sister marked the page of the Sears catalog that had a Chatty Cathy Doll, which was made by Mattel.

This was a doll that, as you might have suspected, talked. You pulled a string on her back and she’d say things like, “Take me with you,” and “May I have a cookie.” Dad said she should have said, “I cost $18.” Which was a small fortune in the 60s.

Cathy also would close her eyes when she was placed on her back, giving the appearance of going to sleep.

Little girls loved this toy, but if you’ve ever seen that episode of the Twilight Zone with Telly Savalas, you can imagine how creepy Chatty Cathy really was.

Another toy my sister wanted, and got, was an Easy-Bake Oven. It was a tiny range that, with the use of a light bulb, was supposed to bake cakes, brownies, and other sweets. It came with small pans that fit precisely into the oven’s opening.

In the Easy-Bake Oven TV commercials, little girls would mix the batter, pour it in the pan, shove it in the oven, and remove it to feed a houseful of kids. All in 30-seconds.

In real life, the Easy-Bake Oven would have had to be as miraculous as the loaves and fishes. Because, I don’t think a cake or brownie was ever finished. A light bulb only does so much.

On this particular Christmas Eve, our grandmother stopped by to pick us up so that my sister and I could go with her to look for Santa’s sleigh gliding between the stars.

Hopping into the Ford Country Squire Wagon, we pressed our faces to each side of the car and dutifully looked for Santa.

We thought we saw him a few times but were never quite sure. Eventually, we convinced ourselves we’d seen him and asked our grandmother to take us back to the house, certain that we would run into him.

He’d already come and gone. But, under the tree there was Joe, Cathy, and an Easy-Bake Oven. Santa must’ve felt we’d been good that year, and he’d rewarded us accordingly.

Today, the jolly old fat man at my house is hoping for a nice, quiet Christmas Eve. Maybe he’ll be able to enjoy that cake my sister started in the Easy-Bake Oven. It should be done by then.

For more stories like this see the next print, or digital edition of The Wylie News. Subscribe today and support local journalism.

By John Moore | thecountrywriter.com

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