Crushed with catalogs, a sign of the season

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, November 14, 2015

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Even though we have yet to buy groceries for our Thanksgiving meal, my thoughts have already turned to creating Christmas gift lists.

I prefer the distinct separation of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but “the most wonderful time of year” is sneaking into my home, primarily through the mailbox.

We started receiving two to three catalogs per day the week before Halloween, and I would suspect by the time Santa visits, dozens will have passed through our door.

When I was a kid, we received only two catalogs with regularity – JCPenneys and Service Merchandise.

This was pre-Internet, and in rural Wise County these books were the only way to browse, short of physically going to the store. My little sister and I anxiously awaited their arrival and couldn’t wait to see what treasures were featured.

JCPenney’s was more boring, with only clothes, shoes and household items. But the Service Merchandise catalog had what was most important to us – toys.

It was with great excitement that we flipped through the pages for the first time, dreaming of bubble-gum machines, electronic keyboards and life-size stuffed animals. Not only did the catalogs inspire our holiday wish lists, they were the center of an imaginary game where we each shopped for our make-believe families.

She and I would sit side-by-side on the couch with the catalog open across our laps – me on the left, her on the right. We could only pick items on “our side.” That was the kicker.

You see, it was terribly disappointing if the Strawberry Shortcake bedspread that would be perfect for your imaginary 3-year-old daughter was not on the page from which you were allowed to pick items. You’d have to settle for Care Bears, or worse, Barbie.

In our imaginations, we each had a husband and multiple children, usually a kid in each age group, because it allowed for more shopping.

We furnished pretend houses, decked the kiddos out in JCPenney’s finest and made sure they got every gadget and gizmo Service Merchandise had to offer.

With the catalog selection at my house today, our game would be neverending. Our imaginary families would not only have a healthy selection of jeans and sneakers, but also mountain climbing gear from Patagonia, workout clothes from Athleta and backpacking equipment from REI.

Everyone would have a Prana swimsuit, and cableknit sweaters from Land’s End. We’d pick out flannel shirts and Golden Retrievers from L.L. Bean, plus charm bracelets from James Avery.

Our husbands would have boots from the King Ranch catalog and wool vests from Filson, and our children would benefit from the inspiring toys in “HearthSong: Toys You’ll Feel Good About Giving.”

In all of our pretend shopping, we never totaled our purchases. I think even as little girls we knew the dollar amount would be astronomical, and that wasn’t the point of the game anyway.

The joy was actually in picking out gifts that the imaginary people in our lives would love. I’d say it’s a joy that I and my sister, who is still my favorite shopping partner, continue to share today, finding the perfect gifts for people.

I’m not sure that any of the catalogs cluttering my kitchen counter hold the “perfect gifts,” but like it or not, they do inspire you to get a jumpstart on the season.

Kristen Tribe is editor of the Wise County Messenger.

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