Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Wish Book

As a child growing up in the late 40's and early 50's, one of life's exciting moments occurred with the arrival of newest Montgomery Ward catalog.  We usually got one from Sears Roebuck also, but Mom seemed to prefer "Monkey Ward".  We had no home delivery of mail.  Everything was delivered to the post office and we would walk 6 blocks to check the mail every day.  Oh, the excitement when the newest edition arrived!!  My sister and I would argue over who got to look at it first.  Of course, if you were the kid that lugged it home from town, you got first dibs.

The Spring-Summer edition would arrive in mid-winter and we would spend hours looking at all the wonderful warm weather fashions soon to be available.  With the wind howling around the house and snow up to our knees in mid-February, we would curl up close to the heat register and  browse an afternoon away dreaming of warm weather.

The Fall-Winter edition would arrive in mid-summer and again we would page our way through exciting ideas for the new school year.  We would dream about the new, shiny bicycles, roller skates and all the mind boggling toys that were available in the Christmas issue.  It truly was a Wish Book as we knew most everything except the underwear and socks would not be available in our frugal world.

When the newest catalog arrived, I would start to beg my mother to let me have the outdated issue.  What a treasure!  I'd grab my scissors and cut out paper dolls and dresses galore.  My imagination knew no bounds.  Men, women, kids .... entire families came to life. 

The old, outdated catalogs were also used as booster seats at the kitchen table for little kids.  There were no heat registers in the upstairs bedrooms so on cold, winter mornings we would grab our clothes and dash downstairs.  Then Mom would open the oven door and we would sit on an old catalog while we dressed for school.

Of course, there was always an old, dog-eared edition residing in the outhouse in case you needed something to read ...

Since my parents had survived the Great Depression, spending frivolously was never, ever done ... ever.  This means that since I was the younger of two sisters, I was raised in hand-me-downs.  My wardrobe consisted of whatever Eileen had worn 3 years previously.  Some things I could not wait to grow into and others were less desirable. I distinctly remember a yellow peasant dress with black rickrack trim. Can you say Butt Ugly?   Mom never dressed us alike, but for some reason she bought two of those darn things.  They were probably selling at a greatly reduced price!  Needless to say, I was blessed with wearing those dresses for years.

I remember one summer day, my mother handed me the newest catalog, opened to the dress pages for young girls. It was time to get ready for school. She told me I could have any two I wanted as long as they were not over $2.98 each.  Oh the bliss!  Plaids, stripes, flowers, sashes or no sashes, collars or not ... There must have been 5 or 6 styles on the page that fit my $2.98 budget and I agonized over my purchase  for days!  I had never been given that privilege before. Wow!  Just for me!  Funny how that memory has stayed with me all these years. 

I never went to a shoe store to try on shoes until I was about 14 years old.  All our shoes were ordered from the Wish Book.  Don't know how my mother measured our feet, but the shoes usually fit.  Probably because she ordered them a bit on the big size so they would last all year.  We only got one new pair of shoes a year.  Mom always bought the plain brown oxford.  No frills, no different colors ... plain brown.  No Mary Janes as "the strap will break within a week."  No saddle shoes as "too hard to keep clean".  Plain brown shoes from the catalog.  Sigh ...

How I hated those brown shoes.  Actually, I hated shoes period.  Sis and I ran barefoot all summer so when it was time for school to start and we had to put on socks and squish our feet into shoes, it was pure agony.    I can remember walking out of the school building, sitting down on the steps, taking off my shoes to walk home on a warm September day.

The Wish Book was a large part of my youth. It was a sign the seasons were changing when the new issue arrived.  Sprawled on the living room floor, paging through all the wonders that were available, a little girl with a big imagination, could spend the afternoon.


  1. Since reading your first blog, I've found that I anxiously await the next memory. You have a wonderful talent for writing these stories and I look forward to reading many, many more of them.

  2. I remember my mother referring to all of the mail-order catalogs as "wish books," too - Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Penny's. When my girls were little, in addition to children's books, I used to get out the toy catalogs and make up stories about the dolls and stuffed animals - they loved it. We get fewer catalogs and do more online shopping these days, but I don't think online shopping can ever totally replace the joy and promise of a new catalog coming in the mail.

  3. My mother never took me clothes shopping when I was little (that I can remember).Every year I got to pick out 3 dresses our of the sears catalog for the new school year. I vividly remember that. Pants were not allowed in school. Rule changed when I reached junior high. That was the first time I remember buying something at a store where I tried the item on before buying. It was a pair of jeans!
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)