Your Wish(book) is My Command
One of the joys of writing historical fiction is having an excuse to slide down internet wormholes in the name of “period research.” A go-to source of mine is old catalogs.
Me: How much for a Betsy Wetsy in 1937?
Does my novel involve a Betsy Wetsy? No. Is it even set in 1937? Not as such.
Ten minutes of digging for the copy line “She’s Rubber and Loves a Bath”?
100% worth it.
If the internet is a rainbow, catalogs are my pot of gold. Recently, I discovered the biggest trove of all: Wishbook Web, which houses Every. Single. Sears. Holiday. Wish Book.
This discovery led to hours of me not working on my novel whatsoever because–holy actual crap–you can view the entirety of the 1985 Wish Book.
Let me take you back.
1985: I was 10. I didn’t have a lot of friends. We had just moved, and I was an introvert prone to talking to myself. My dad was nearing the peak of his second (third?) mid-life crisis, and my mom was busy trying to clean that up. I can’t remember if my dad was out of work yet. If he wasn’t, that shitstorm was on the near horizon. Anyhoo–that year, the Wishbook clocked in at almost 650 pages, and arrived sometime in early November.
This catalog was a stunner. It sold everything you ever wanted and quite a few things you’d never heard of but definitely needed.
My younger sister and I would fight over turns with it. And I mean FIGHT. Because this was a pre-internet, pre-Amazon world. We didn’t go shopping very often, and local stores had what they had, which was usually limited.
It wasn’t even about buying; it was about knowing what existed.
And the wishbook–goddamn–it had everything in the universe.
Just look at the 1985 cover:
Who can doubt that blonde girl is seeing the face of god?
That’s how good the Wish Book was.
When it was my turn, I would examine every page with the intensity of Indiana Jones looking for the lost ark. I browsed through menswear, through kitchen goods, despite having zero interest in these categories, because if it was in the Wish Book, it was worthy of your attention.
I would play a game: If I could buy one item off each page–but only one–which item would it be?
Some pages were easy. (Obviously the $2,500 life-sized horse.)
Some crushingly hard. (Coin counter or electric pig pencil sharpener. Oof.)
In this game, I was infinitely wealthy, and my family had awesome stuff. Like this. And this. My dad wore Joe Namath wool-blend separates, and my mom rocked the Cheryl Tiegs collection. (Unleash your “soft-spoken shine,” Mom!) They looked at each other like this, and I had cool hair like this.
The crowning glory of the book was the toy section. It had everything. An absolute toy miracle. Every He-man character. Every Voltron playset. Every Barbie item—the dream house and the corvette. You could even buy an actual flipping robot.
It was stunning.
My family could not afford such bounty, but to see it all in one place, in one book that I could hold in my hands, was almost as good. Consumption takes many forms, and the Wish Book more than scratched an itch. I knew a narrow slice of life. The Wish Book was my bridge to a bigger world.
I don’t know what maniacal soul decided to scan every single page of the 1985 Wish Book (and pay to host it!), but you, my good human, are a hero. Because here I am, thirty-seven years later, flipping through every single page with birthday-level joy.
It’s a gift to see some of these toys again, and the tech is hilarious, if only because I remember when it looked futuristic and modern. Oddly enough, despite the hours I’d spent hunched over this Wish Book, very few of the pages looked familiar all these years later.
This page made me gasp when I saw it again, my 47 year-old brain hardly able to hold the awe:
I remembered this page. How could I forget? This page is amazing.
Just look at those carefree girls: Their parents do awesome things–like buy matching sleeping bags for five. They have nice bedrooms and sleepovers, hair curlers and a popcorn machine. They have each other. They belong. Theirs is a Rainbow Sherbet wonderland.
Oh, to nestle in a pastel sleeping bag and listen to music with friends, throwing popcorn all over the place like my parents wouldn’t lose their shit at that much commotion.
The ombre rainbows. The laughter. The popcorn mid-air.
To possess that moment was to feel whole–or so it seemed–and I remember wanting that so damn bad. And what was the point of a Wish Book if you couldn’t make a wish?
D.E. Hardy’s work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in X-R-A-Y Magazine, Lost Balloon, Sledgehammer Lit, New World Writing, among others. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be followed on twitter @dehardywriter and at www.dehardywriter.com.