The Wish Book.

Posted by admin on March 10, 2014 in Growing Up |
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The passing of another Christmas led me down a brief path of nostalgia, the Sears Wish Book. If you’re too young to remember the Wish Book, the full color catalogue heralded the official arrival of Christmas.

Yes, there was a time before the Internet when you could search by concept, brand or price and hundreds if not thousands of choices were returned to your computer screen in the blink of an eye.

The Wish Book was an analog wonder, filled with all of the season’s coolest things, all of which could be ordered from the Wish Book and picked up at your nearest Sears store.

True, you could also shop at Sears for the wonders contained in the Wish Book. But the selection was often much more limited, especially if you lived in the suburbs. Even our seemingly large (well, to a kid anyways) Sears store in Renton had a much smaller selection, located at the back of the store near the order counter.

I’m assuming this was a strategic move on the part of Sears, knowing that kids would wander the aisles of the toy area while the their parents placed their secretive orders at the counter.

I so looked forward to the arrival of that book every year. Unbeknownst to any of us kids, it would arrive in the daily mail, Bill the postman bringing it to the door while we were at school. One day we would arrive home, and there it was on the kitchen table.

Unfortunately for me, the Wish Book was a birth order possession, at least when it first arrived. Jon, then Jeff, then Brian, then finally I would get to look through its pages, page after page dog eared and items circled by each of us.

I’m not sure how my parents ever figured out what we really wanted. Nearly every item seemed to be circled in the book by the time I was through with it, the pages wrinkled and torn as every inch of the Wish Book was viewed, analyzed and marked, all in the hopes that our parents or Santa would be able to decode it and get the right item to the right kid.

You’d think my parents would have figured out a coding system to help guide us. For instance, a different colored pen for each of us kids or an initial that was to be marked next to the circle so they could tell which one of the boys should get what gift on Christmas Eve. Sorry, but this was the pre-Stickies era.

Eventually the Wish Book would find its way to the bathroom. There, in a wicker basket, sat our reading material. By now it would be November, and the selected wishes had more than likely been ordered – a Marx Civil War set for Brian, slot cars for Jeff and Jon, and a GI Joe Sea Sled for me – among lots of other things, of course.

Nowadays kids have Amazon.com. I guess it’s kind of like the Wish Book. It even has a Wish List that you can share with other people. I was only reminded of this when my son, weeks after I finished his Christmas shopping, casually mentioned his digital Wish Book list. I had never seen it. In fact, I didn’t really even know that Amazon had a Wish List. I used the shopping cart for that function, moving things to the Order Later section so that I could keep track of the two dozen items I wasn’t through wanting yet.

I confess that Amazon has a lot more items than the Sears Wish Book. Such is the nature of the digital age. No need to limit selection by the number of pages that could be printed in a catalog. On the Net, you can fill thousands upon thousands of “pages” with items as there are no limits, either on space or our desires.

Of course, Amazon is smarter than the Wish Book. The Wish Book offered no opinions, no recommendations. It didn’t keep track of everything you’ve ever ordered in your lifetime or show you the last items you ordered, or the last items people just like you ordered. There were no reviews to read through or any items linked together so if you bought one thing you were bound to buy another because you may just need it.

I did this recently. Thanks to a shipping snafu by UPS, one of the gifts I purchased didn’t make it for Christmas. To make up for it, Amazon offered me a $20 gift card. Free money, I thought, so I went shopping. I bought an RC helicopter since the one I got my son was so fun. Once I clicked Add to Cart, up pops another item, spare parts for the helicopter since they have a habit of crashing into walls and such, their parts shearing off unexpectedly, ruining your fun.

I ordered the parts. Amazon knew I would. Others had done the same thing. Like a lemming I had assimilated, ordering the same way as everyone else, picking up spare parts I may never need and quickly going over my free $20.

The Wish Book could have never held such power over me. There was no Recommend capability, its analog pages only showing me what the buyers at corporate had decided Sears should offer that holiday season.

Then again, that was the beauty of the Wish Book. You would open it and page after page you were delighted to learn about toys you never even knew existed before the Wish Book arrived. It was a voyage of discovery as you turned its pages, never knowing what was on the next one.

I will always miss that excitement of getting the Wish Book and turning to the toy section, making my way quickly past the pages of girl toys to those for boys. The magic of Christmas had arrived in the form of a Sears catalog, one that meant that Santa would soon be making a stop at my house, his sleigh loaded with goodies from the pages of the Wish Book.

In the Emerald City, wishing…

– Robb

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