The Thrill of the Catalog

Hot dog! The arrival of Sears and Roebuck Catalog always started a battle. In the fifties and sixties, it had everything: clothes, toys, appliances, tools, furniture, and almost anything else you could dream up.

As soon as I could wrest it out of someone’s hands, I’d go first to the kid stuff. Every toy imaginable was available. I’d flip straight past the dolls in search of skates, pogo sticks, and cowboy outfits. I just knew my life would be perfect if I could just get a cowboy getup….and oh, yes, a BB gun. My parents made it clear I would not be getting a BB gun, but as long as I could admire them in the catalog, it was always a possibility! Periodically, I’d meander away and a sister or brother would grab it and run. Occasionally, Mother would tell us to look together, and pages would invariably be torn in the ensuing tussle, ensuring big trouble and banishment. We learned to discipline ourselves to battle as quietly as possible to maintain possession.

Once I had sated my toy yearnings a bit, I’d move on to the swimming pool and swing set section. Though I’d admired the amazing models in the book, Mother was quick to burst my bubble about the Olympic-sized pools and towering swing sets the lucky kids frolicked on. “That pool is tiny. It would barely come up past your knees. It’s not even big enough for all you kids to get in at once!”

That burned me up! I could clearly see a dozen kids standing neck deep, swimming laps, or diving off their dad’s shoulders in that pool. Besides, Who cared if there was room for everybody. That pool would be mine!

Moving on from the pool, I admired the refrigerators with their wide-open doors, loaded with watermelons, pies, hams, turkeys, fruit, and molded jello salads. The freezer section was stuffed tight with ice cream and Popsicles. I coveted those refrigerators packed with endless culinary delights, so unlike our clunker with a few aging onions, a bowl of leftover pinto beans, a jar of fresh cow’s milk and a bowl of yard-eggs.

When the competition for the catalog abated a bit, I’d smuggle it to a quiet corner to try to get a little sex education in the ladies and mens underwear section. I never learned much, but I remained ever hopeful, snapping the pages shut should I hear approaching footsteps. When I discovered hernia trusses and maternity girdles, that was the biggest mystery of all. They were forever linked in my memory. To this day, I still hope to discover them in a shameless tryst.

Only a Matter of Perspective

cold kids 2We had a tight schedule when our kids were in school. By this, I don’t mean we scurried from one activity to another getting our kids to lessons and sports practices after school and on weekends. Bud and I were juggling just to get them fed, dressed, and to the bus stop in the mornings. We were both taking call at work, so it was a big job making sure one of us was there when they got home, got them started on homework, got dinner, and their baths. Throw in a few loads of laundry, a fever or sick child and it was sure to be exciting. Sometimes I felt overloaded.
“The science fair project is due tomorrow!” could make my blood run cold. A call from the teacher or bus driver, and there was no telling what changes we had to work in. No teacher ever called to say, “I just wanted to let you know your son is a delight to have in my class.” The kids thought it was a great idea to give us a note or let us know, “I need $50 today for the………. It’s the LAST DAY!”
I felt like we were stressed till we met the Ford kids who lived about a quarter of a mile down the street. They showed up at our house one frosty morning in shorts and overcoats. “Can we ride to the bus stop with y’all? We’re freezing!”
My kids were at the table eating pancakes and sausage. The Ford boys stared, open-mouthed.
“Are you boys hungry?”
“Let me get you a plate. Do you want some milk?”
“Yes ma’am.”
I fixed them up. They licked their plates, literally. The next morning, they opened the front door and climbed right up to the table. We fed those boys for the next two years till we moved. It turns out, they were being raised by a single father who had to get their baby sister to the baby-sitter in time to be at work at seven. He woke the boys as he was going out the door, telling them to get some cereal. Our lives didn’t look quite so demanding.