The Way Toys Were – Ode to the Sears Wish Book

Every fall, just after Halloween, I begged my mom to order the Sears Wish Book. I spent hours poring over the book, making a list of the toys I wanted most. My parents always let me pick out one really impressive toy for the first night of Hanukkah and a few small “stocking stuffer” gifts for the other seven nights. My kid sister Janet and I would fight over the book and had to take turns, until my mom realized she should order two copies.

Yet even with eight nights of celebration, I suffered from Christian envy and was a bit jealous of my best friend Joan’s beautiful large Christmas tree with colorfully wrapped gifts underneath. I fondly recall when her parents graciously invited me over for a few hours before their Christmas eve celebration. Thus, via a scaled-down version, I  experienced the joy of Christmas along with my potato latkes, chocolate gelt, picking hardened dripped wax off the menorah, and my eight gifts. The best of both worlds, you might say.

You would think that the Sears Wish Book was a blockbuster novel, the way I consumed every toy page! Sometimes my wish was granted – like the year I received Thingmaker Creepy Crawlers by Mattel – probably in 1968. I spent hours in my room playing with this and spilling plastic goop on my carpet. I loved overfilling the metal molds just slightly so I could peel off the excess – the horned lizard was my favorite.

A year later I was still obsessed with this toy but wanted to add to my repertoire. I received Creeple People and was delighted at first, but somehow these creatures weren’t as cool as the bugs. In 1970 I asked for Incredible Edibles and while the candy maker itself was funky and cool, the candy tasted pretty bad. That ended my Mattel Thingmaker phase and I cannot recall ordering from the catalog much past 1972. All that is left of my foray into goop technology:

I was delighted when Jeff recounted being enraptured by the Sears Wish Book in much the same way – another thing we have in common. But he received one gift that I lusted after that my parents wouldn’t buy me – the Mattel VacUForm. In retrospect, this toy was more dangerous than the Thingmakers. But in any case, a kid could easily get burned by either. These delightful toys of yesteryear certainly wouldn’t pass USCPSC muster today.

There is one big gift that got away – to this day, I don’t know why this wish wasn’t granted. I think my dad, who was a serious cyclist, thought this was a frivolous and impractical choice. My one regret is that I did not get a super cool Schwinn Stingray with banana seat. I would have settled for the Sears version called the Spyder, pictured below. The one I really wanted was light blue with a sparkly metallic blue seat and matching streamers.

Although I never received that dream bike, my dad’s rather creative choices for our stocking stuffers certainly offered amusement. One year he bought three jeweled live snails in NYC at B. Shackman Company. Yes, these were live snails with rhinestones glued on their shells. We kept them inside in a dish intended for turtles. In the spring, we found two empty snail shells behind our garage – most of the rhinestones survived, but where did those snails go? We dubbed this the great snail mystery.

We wish you a safe and happy holiday!

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