Sidelines: Remembering the book of wishes

When I was growing up, December was about the only time I ever got excited about what came in the mail.

For days, weeks even, we’d search the mailbox for that one package we prized more than any other, even more than birthday cards we knew had a few dollars stuffed in them from grandparents.

We looked every day, even on Sunday, when we knew there wasn’t any mail. Every day it didn’t come was a disappointment, but there was always tomorrow, we thought.

When you’re young, there’s always tomorrow.

And then one day, there it was, the thing you’d been waiting for, hoping for, the thing which never let you down, never failed to excite you, never failed to tickle your imagination.

It was the Sears catalog. Not just any Sears catalog, but the Christmas edition, full of more toys and games and presents than you could dream about.

“The Wish Book,” they called it.

And dream and wish we did. It was sort of like gazing at the window displays of the old Marshall Field’s in downtown Chicago, full of wonder and fantasy, except so much better. The catalog was right here in your own house, so you could look at it as long and as much as you wanted, as long as you had your homework done and you didn’t have to do something stupid like eat dinner or do the dishes.

I don’t know how many hours were spent carefully going over every page, examining every item to the fullest detail. I’m sure we wore more than one magazine out, poring through them over and over. If it wasn’t in my hands, it was in my sister’s; after hers, in the hands of the kids who hung out at our house. It was actually more fun when there was a group of us. You could point things out and talk about them, debate which toy truck looked better or more durable, imagine how funny it would be to watch the cat chase a toy train.

The girls may have looked at the clothes or coats cluttering up the first half of the book, but I never wasted my time. When I was younger, I would study toy guns or imagine setting up a miniature wooden fort in the living room. That was a bit of a challenge, since my sister was envisioning her new Barbie dollhouse going in the same place. Actually, she was as much into horses as dolls, so if she had set up a corral, we could have worked that out. When I got older, it was bats and baseball gloves signed by Wiilie Mays or Billy Williams. I don’t know why, but I thought their signatures would guarantee I could hit and field just like them.

The really expensive gifts were in the back of the catalog, things like pool tables and indoor swimming pools. Those were the pages we skipped. Dreamy-eyed kids that we were, we still kept our sights within reason.

I still see myself alone on the living room sofa, the catalog in my lap, making out my final list, the official one I would mail to Santa. I wish now I had been so conscientious about my math homework.

Of course, you never got even half of what you thought you couldn’t live without. Maybe we might have if we hadn’t hogged the book so much, and actually let our parents have a look. But it didn’t matter. Looking back, there are only a couple of gifts I remember anyway. It’s the memories of that time that mean more to me now.

Although it would have been nice to have gotten that Billy Williams glove from Terwilligers.

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