Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Wish Book

It was the most anticipated postal delivery of the year. Starting at the first of September, I would eagerly check the mail each day. "Has it come yet? Has it come yet?" Then would come that joyous day when I would come home and find it, the Wish Book. The Sears Christmas Catalog. I'd grab it, run to the sofa in the living room and snuggle down happily to look at the treasures within. Forget the clothes, the linens and fine china. Ignore the jewelry and electronics. I went straight for the back-- the TOY section.

I'd start at the back cover and work my way through the catalog in reverse order. The dolls were always at the very back and that was the first order of business. I had to look at all the dolls and decide which one was going on my Christmas list. This was a serious decision. I had to look at the pictures, read the descriptions, and compare notes with my sisters because we couldn't ask for the same doll. I would argue the merits of the various possibilities with my friends. "Not Betsy Wetsy!" I would say. "Her body is hard and the liquid goes right through her. I'm asking for Thumbelina! Her body is soft and she moves her arms and legs when you pull the string."

I also had to keep in mind the rules from my parents. My mom thought that dolls that "did things" deprived me of the opportunity to use my imagination, so when my friends were oohing and ahing over Baby Tender Love, I'd pull the string on my Thumbelina doll and say dismissively-- "I wouldn't want a doll that does too much! Baby Tender Love doesn't leave anything for me to do." Secretly, I would have died for a talking doll, but Mom wouldn't go for it. There was one year when my sister told me that Mom was actually thinking of buying a talking doll because she had seen it in the catalog and liked the looks of it. Alas, it was not to be. When Mom took a closer look at it, she found it had a cloth body and for some reason she didn't like that.

It was the most important decision of the year because whatever doll I got for Christmas would be the doll that I would play with for the entire year to come, so I had better choose wisely. I would love to have had a boy doll because I didn't want my doll family to be all girls, but alas, I was much too old for dolls when Archie Bunker's grandson doll was released in the mid 70's. However, never one to lack imagination (thanks to my mother's refusal to buy me a Baby Tender Love) I had some stuffed animals with tails and those worked fine for the little boys of the family. The tails made a dandy "anatomically correct" appendage, if you ignored the fact that it was in the back instead of the front.

When I was 7, my mother made up for everything by allowing me to ask for Cheerful Tearful on my letter to Santa. Cheerful was a hard-body baby doll that CRIED REAL TEARS, wet her diaper, smiled and whimpered. Of course, she only smiled when her arm was held up high in the world but I didn't care. I wanted her so badly I had dreams about her. Sara (as I renamed her because what self respecting doll mother is going to call one of her babies "Cheerful Tearful?") was always just out of my reach, but on Christmas morning, there she was.

The next year Sears had a completely new offering, beautiful fashion dolls by Furja of Italy. I fell in love with Simona, a platinum blonde with a beauty mark on her face that I tried to scrape off, thinking it was a speck of dirt. My mother made a complete wardrobe for her, and Simona became my favorite doll. I still have her, tucked in a corner of my closet. I thought my daughters might want her one day, but neither of them really played much with the larger-sized dolls. My older daughter most played with her Barbie dolls and my younger daughter played with her plush animals and My Little Pony dolls.

When I was 9, I went the fashion doll route again, although I didn't want the doll I asked for, another platinum blonde named Christina. It was my sister who wanted her, but at 13, she was considered too old for dolls, so I asked for her as a favor to my sister. I never really cared for Christina-- she was bigger than Simona so I cast her in the role of the mean, fat, ugly sister with Simona being the noble, brave, beautiful abused child who took care of Sara and the other babies.

I took a break when I was 10, because I desperately wanted a watch. My mother gave me a choice-- a watch or a doll-- and I went for the watch, but at age 11, for my final doll I went for the only non-blonde doll I ever received: Beautiful Crissy with hair that actually grows. Yes, surprisingly, my mother once again broke her rule about gimmicky dolls and allowed me to get one that actually DID something. Crissy fit in well with my doll family-- she was the rich relative who befriended Simona and tried to help her. Christina was still the outcast as I just never did like her. I know I still have the Christina doll, and I had the Crissy doll for a long time but I don't think I do anymore.

When I go through the toy stores now, I am pleased to see that a substantial portion of shelf space is still given over to dolls. Barbie dolls and baby dolls, action figures and gimmicky dolls. Many of the dolls I grew up with have been re-released- I've seen cheerful Tearful and Crissy come around in various incarnations a few times and I've also seen several variations of Thumbelina. I've even heard that Sears is thinking of bringing back the Wish Book in a somewhat abbreviated form. I hope they do because the kids of today need all the help they can get in writing their Christmas lists!

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