Those of you of a Certain Age will remember The Wish Book. The good folks at Sears, Roebuck & Co. made certain it landed in America’s households right around Thanksgiving time. It was the Catalog to End All Catalogs, an enormous tome big enough, when open, to cover the laps of both me and my little brother as we sat side by side on the sofa. Its pages were thin and easily torn but they were adorned with full color photographs of all the wonderful things you could buy at Sears, Roebuck & Co.
John and I always greeted the arrival of The Wish Book with delight. We would abscond with it to the sofa, sit close together, open The Wish Book to the Toys section, and begin our favorite holiday game, which was crassly but aptly called I Get It. The rules were simple. Taking turns, we would point to a desired item on the page and proclaim “I GET IT.” Once you laid claim to an item, your sibling couldn’t choose it and had to be satisfied with something else on the page. Only when all the items on the two pages open across our knees had been picked did we allow ourselves to turn the page. After playing I Get It a few dozen times, we had the appropriate sections of The Wish Book committed to memory.
John and I had a tacit agreement that we would skip the too-girly pages (rife with Barbie, her friends, competitors and vast wardrobes). However, we didn’t skip all the boy-oriented pages because there was so much there that I found desirable as well. Some of it was pretty dull – we generally gave the G.I. Joe material a miss, partly because I didn’t care about it but mostly because John owned the budget version of G.I. Joe: a molded plastic gentleman named Stony Smith. Stony’s clothing was molded onto him so there were no tedious costume changes, he was taller than G.I. Joe and stood up nicely on his own, courtesy of his large combat-booted feet. He had a pleasant, somewhat wistful expression (versus Joe’s vacant stare), and was also capable of carrying helpless Barbie dolls in his arms, a trait which my sisters and I found valuable when we needed a really masculine hero in our doll dramas (sorry, Ken was never very butch). John was fiercely loyal to his Stonies (he had several), so we were able to give the most warmongering section of The Wish Book a miss.
However, even the girliest of girls sees the attraction of a Man From U.N.C.L.E. pistol or a James Bond attache case; I could even happily play I Get It on the pages and pages of toy cars, race tracks, HO trains and radio-operated airplanes. But the really competitive rounds of I Get It were waged over the Games and the Monsters. We craved and coveted Hands Down and Booby Trap and Trouble with its Pop-O-Matic dice. My mother didn’t get us too many games; there was always a little sister around who’d try to eat the pieces, and anyway my Aunt Julia and her family in Memphis had every game ever made and we got to try them out when we visited them (and where I discovered that Mousetrap, which looked great in the commercials, really wasn’t such a much when you actually played it). Oh, but those monsters. John and I both loved monsters of all kinds; well, who wouldn’t love Horrible Hamilton and his buddies, Brutal Beetle and Spooky Spider? Horrible Hamilton was a large jointed beast made of heavy-duty plastic who could jaunt along on his buggy legs via the pull-string that came out of his butt. John lusted after a Horrible Hamilton of his very own. I bet if I called him this minute and asked him to sing the Horrible Hamilton commercial jingle, he could do it without missing a note.
He actually got one for Christmas, and all seven of us kids played with it. Horrible Hamilton came with a cardboard Hideout which was a vivid purple and black; his insect henchmen weren’t much fun (all they did was roll around on little wheels) but Horrible Hamilton was a winner all the way around. He marched fiercely through the wrapping paper litter on Christmas morning; I have the home movies to prove it. Later on, we girls discovered that Horrible Hamilton could actually clasp Barbie in his pincers and drag her off; this added interesting new vistas to our doll-play.
When the toy pages of The Wish Book were exhausted, John and I would turn to the food section (yes, Sears used to sell food). We would squabble over who “got” the cashews and the Butter Batter fruitcake, and when those pages were depleted, we’d put the The Wish Book and I Get It aside. If it was dark outside, we’d turn off all the lights in the living room and sit as close to the Christmas tree as we could. Sometimes we’d talk about the things we wanted; sometimes we’d rearrange the presents under the tree (John got his comeuppance the year he moved all his presents to the front; he got all his handed to him first and consequently was sitting disconsolate, all his gifts unwrapped, while the rest of us were just getting started opening ours). But mostly we’d stare at the tree, at the lights and the shiny ornaments, with visions of Barbie, Butter Batter and Horrible Hamilton dancing in our heads.