This time of year always makes me think of the Christmas catalog. I’m not talking about the item-specific catalogs you still get in the mail today, but rather the huge catalogs from Sears, Montgomery Ward and JC Penney.
Growing up, we lived on a farm near the little town of Summit Point in Jefferson County. I don’t recall too many visits to big stores around Christmas, so the catalogs were my link to the fantastic world of possible gifts.
I wasn’t aware of Black Friday—maybe it didn’t even exist back then—and I don’t remember going to any Christmas parades. Rather it was the arrival of the Christmas-themed catalogs that signaled the start of the holiday season for me.
I would skip past the men’s and women’s clothing sections, roll right through the home appliances and hardware, to get to the toy section that was always in the back.
Sitting on the couch, the catalog on my lap, I would start my annual search for the toy or toys that would make that Christmas the best of all!
My mother called the catalog the “wish book” because often, what I really wanted I could not have. Like most West Virginians, we had a modest household—always plenty to eat and new shoes at the start of the school year, but Christmas had serious budgetary limitations.
I don’t recall my parents putting a specific price limit on what would be my “big gift” each year—maybe I just knew that cost was a factor. Therefore, my shopping started by ruling out toys that were too expensive.
I would daydream about the good life that clean cut kid in the catalog had playing with his electric powered slot car racetrack with multiple loops. But at $59.95, that was out of the question. The $19.95 racetrack might be within the limits, but it looked so… puny, and there was no thrilled youngster posed having fun with that one.
Christmas was a conflicted time for me. I wanted so many things in that catalog, but I was also ashamed of my desires. The more toys I thought would bring me happiness would also mean my parents would have to strain to pay for what they really could not afford.
Inevitably, there were compromises, with myself and my budget-conscious mother. The Big Bruiser wrecker truck, prominently featured in that year’s catalog, was within a reasonable price range and I got that one Christmas. It ran through batteries faster than we could buy them, but it did bring me a lot of joy.
Another Christmas I got an electric football game, the one with the vibrating surface. That was a great disappointment because you couldn’t control the plastic players on the vibrating surface. I blame that hurt on old technology, not my parents.
That was a long time ago. I don’t know if the big stores even send out catalogs like that anymore. Maybe it’s even harder for children and parents now since you can find anything and everything online. At least back then, my desires were limited to what I saw on those glossy pages.