Catalog Shopping in the Old Days
There’s an old saying that states: “What goes around, comes around.” The recent explosion of Internet shopping brings back memories of yesteryear. Living in a small town of less than 750 people during the 1940s had it’s advantages; but, also, its limitations. One of those limitations was having less items available in the local stores than those in larger communities. This resulted in the need for persons living in these smaller communities to shop through the mail order catalogs. The two most popular of which, were Montgomery Ward and Sears-Roebuck.
However, catalog shopping was not without its frustrations. I remember seeing a pair of boots in the “Monkey Ward” catalog (the popular name for Montgomery Ward) that I really wanted. I spent weeks begging, whining, and cajoling my mother into ordering them for me. She finally acquiesced and placed the order (whining, begging, and cajoling sometimes does have its rewards). Unlike the Internet, however, things in those days didn’t move quite so fast through the catalog mail order system. Those of you who were part of that catalog experience will remember the orders were sent by snail mail; which meant at least five days to a week for the order to reach the catalog warehouse, two or three days for the order to be processed and shipped, and another seven to ten days to reach its destination by parcel post.
Well, the big day finally arrived at long last; my awaited prize came in the mail. I remember my excitement as I carried the package home from the post office; excitement that soon would be dampened. The boots were too small. Maybe my feet grew during my long harrowing wait, I don’t know. 🙂 Anyway, I was so disappointed I was willing to put up with anything, including pinched toes and squeezed feet just to be able to keep those boots, but my mother, in her good wisdom, said no; they would have to go back to be exchanged for a size that was more in keeping with the actual size of my foot; or perhaps even a bit larger than my foot, because the standard phrase of the day we kids heard was, “you’ll grow into them.” How many of us remember that phrase?
Another thing I remember about those days during the 1940s, is that very few toys were ever on display in the stores except during the holiday shopping season. I suppose the same was true in the larger cities as well. The toys were put out the day after Thanksgiving, were available from then until Christmas, after which, they were put away. The same was true for the catalogs. As I remember it, there were generally two catalogs per year; spring/summer, and fall/winter versions. Toys were only displayed in the fall/winter versions; or, there may have been a special Christmas catalog where the toys were featured. My memory is a little hazy on that point. Anyway, this limited marketing of toys greatly enhanced our anticipation of the holiday season. And of course, during the war years, toys were even more scarce.
I remember after the war ended, certain items were still scarce for a while–bicycles, for one. I was in my tenth year at war’s end; just the right age for my first bike. Even though the war officially ended in August, it took a while for companies to meet the demand. Due to the limited supply, we were put on a waiting list. There were two stores in Grace that sold bikes. I had my name on the list in both places. There was little choice about the bike you got. You pretty much took what came in, or you traded places with someone else on the list. I remember my name finally reached the top, and the bike the store had gotten in was just what I wanted, a Schwinn, but this was late October! Too early for Christmas.
When Dad came in from the field that night I asked him if I could have that bike. He told me Christmas was nearly two months away. I reminded him that if I didn’t take this one, I’d lose my place on the list, and who knows how long it would be before another bike came in, and besides, it might not be what I want; this one was. So he agreed to let me have it if I would agree to wait until Christmas to receive it. How cruel to make a kid wait until the dead of winter in a country where there would be two feet of snow on the ground by the time he got his bicycle, but that’s what happened. Just like the catalog shopping, it was another one of those long harried waits in the life of a young boy before he could use his new bike. It would be late March or April in the east Idaho highlands before the snow was melted enough for me to ride it. To a ten year old kid, that would seem like half a lifetime.
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