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Today is March 25, 2019

Grin 'n' Bare It

Tell me it’s not true

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

A couple weeks ago, Mr. Roy walked into the kitchen where I was emptying the dishwasher and said, “You’ll never believe what I just heard and saw on TV.”

I smiled. “You’re wrong. In today’s times, I’ll believe almost anything you tell me.”

“Well, sit down and hold on,” he said. “Sears is declaring bankruptcy and closing all of their stores.” 

Even though I knew the company was going through some hard times, the finality of the closings brought tears to my eyes—especially for someone my age who has such good memories of the Sears stores and their mail-order catalogs. The Christmas season brings many memories of looking at those “Christmas Books,” as I later referred to them. 

I remember how I waited in anticipation for the Sear’s Christmas catalog to arrive in the mail. I spent hours viewing the new edition and marking the toys I wanted. I actually marked a lot more toys than I knew Santa would bring.

About a month before Christmas Mother would say, “Okay, you can underline four toys that you want Santa Claus to bring you, but remember, don’t underline the most expensive toys and only four.”

At the time, I couldn’t figure out what kind of a business arrangement Santa Claus and Sears had worked out. But it seemed to work, because in most cases Old Santa found out what items I marked and did a pretty good job putting them under our tree.  

In the 1940s and 50s, and before, the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog was the source for many items that rural Americans used. I can remember my mother and grandmother ordering everything from chicken biddies to Sunday hats from those big, thick catalogs.

If they were alive today and Sears still sold the same type goods, my mother and grandmother would say, “I don’t believe it! Where will I get my canning supplies and underwear?”

Until the end of the 1960s and early 70s, those catalog sales were big business. Sears opened a small office in the late 1960s in Lucedale where people (like me) could stop by. A clerk would place the order, then call the customer when the package arrived. I liked that, since they would also send it back if folks were displeased with the item. 

Until the 1940s you could even purchase a house that could be assembled from a kit. In the 1910s and 20s the Sears catalog displayed the latest lady’s fashions for sale. And in the late 1800s you could order fancy horse carriages and farm implements. Early editions included all sorts of patent medicines and medical supplies.

The Sears mail-order business back then was like today’s Amazon.com. Sears could not provide one- to two-day delivery like Amazon, but back then people were more patient and didn’t demand instant gratification as they do today. 

Sears mail-order customers thought it was wonderful to be able to look at an item in a catalog, mail in an order and have the item, or items, mailed to them. And they never had to leave the farm.

As a side note, I can remember going into our local post office and hearing baby chicks chirping from their Sears shipping boxes. And you could hear people commenting about how it was time for the country ladies to order their “biddies.”

Age has taught me a lot of things, and one certainly is that many things in life are constantly changing, and we need to learn to adjust to those changes. Sears either could not, or would not, adjust to the needs and desires of the marketplace. Businesses today have to constantly change to meet the needs and wants of a very fickle public. 

Sometimes when Mr. Roy and I are traveling, we play a game called “Do you remember?” For example, I might say, “Do you remember when all of the men at church on Sunday wore dress hats, and why do you think that ended?” Or, “Ladies must have a pair of gloves for each clothing outfit.” 

He always comes up with something to keep the game going. “Do you remember when there were vent windows in automobiles, and why did that end?”

I used to love those pretty whitewall tires on automobiles. Why aren’t those still available as an option?

Remember the copy machines? When I taught school we stood in line for our turn to “run off” tests on the copy machine. Those machines were used in all fields of work. If you are Mr. Roy’s and my age, try playing this game sometime, as you stroll down memory lane. Actually, try it if you’re younger. With the explosion of technology, young folks can almost watch the change as smartphones improve every year.   

Mr. Roy and I watch each other as a new wrinkle appears every few months. God has been good to us, even with wrinkles. And I’m joyful that I continue to have you, my faithful readers.

Have a very happy, prosperous and blessed New Year!

Kay Grafe is the author of “Oh My Gosh, Virginia.” To order, send name, address, phone number and $16.95, plus $3.50 S&H to Kay Grafe, 2142 Fig Farm Road, Lucedale, MS 39452.

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