Christmas Catalogues for a Boomer Kid

Baby boomers have a lot of Christmas holidays under their belts. And, we hope, a lot of good memories. We just heard from one boomer, Dr. James Berger, who now lives in Estero, Florida, who writes about his memories. They aren’t about the gifts. They are about the dreams of gifts.

Jim Berger and siblings.

Christmas Catalogues Remembered

Rural New Jersey in the 1950s had no shopping malls, and definitely no internet. Yet twice a year an entire department store appeared in our mailbox. It came in the form of a two-inch-thick catalogue from Montgomery Ward (or Monkey Ward as we called it). My experience was that a family had one loyalty to give to anything. One church. One political party. One radio station. One TV station. One automobile company.

And one catalogue company.

We were a Monkey Ward family. The kids across the street lived in a different world. Theirs was a Sears Roebuck world. Our clothes and our toys reflected the difference, because there were unique items to each catalogue. We didn’t wear logos on our left breast like today’s garments. The items spoke for themselves.

The bonus I watched for arrived in early October. The Monkey Ward Christmas catalogue! Those pages sparked such longing in me, and such fantasies! I imagined myself playing with that Ricochet Carbine cap gun, with its realistic sound. I felt myself driving that go-kart or piloting that remote-controlled airplane with effortless grace. In my fantasies, my play was always perfect.

When I graduated to staring at the football helmets and pads, I was a star. My friends played Pee-Wee football and they got to wear those helmets. But our family couldn’t afford the fees, so my neighbors and I played touch in their yard. Sure, there was that wistful longing for the glory of wearing the football armor. But now that I’m retired, I know that my knees are intact and my shoulders undamaged because I didn’t slam my body into those other hulks. Not to mention my head, my brain, my neck, my spine.

Dr. Jim Berger

Day after day, in those idle moments alone I’d return to my favorite pages, and create a whole playground in my mind. Then I’d close the catalogue and go do my chores. Today those catalogues, like the games I dreamed up, are just memories.

Last evening I watched my cat stare out the sliding glass doors into the dark, longing to go outside. She reminded me of myself as a kid. I’d gaze into that Montgomery Ward Christmas Catalogue and dream of a Christmas I would never have. Yet I could imagine it, and it was just as real.


    1. I grew up in NJ in the ’50’s also, and although I don’t remember catalogues, I do remember midnight mass on Christmas Eve, friends coming over to our little apartment after mass to enjoy coffee and cake while my sister and I colored in our new coloring books or played with our new paper dolls. Coming from a very humble, religious Hispanic family there was no such thing as Santa, but nonetheless, we always had a lovely Christmas and I still get warm feelings all over when I recall them. Thanks for jarring my memory and Merry Christmas.

  1. Hi Jim,
    You brought back a lot of memories! We didn’t get the Monkey Ward Catalogue, we got the Sears Catalogue, but it was the same thing! It was our “dream” book. We loved it! My nieces and nephews did the same thing with the Toys R Us Catalogue…I used to watch them and think…the beat goes on!

  2. Ah! I hadn’t thought about the Sears Christmas catalog in years. We called it “the Wish Book.” I would study it for hours!

  3. Thanks, Jim, for the memory. I too loved the Christmas catalogs, and my eyes would bulge out of my sockets looking at all the dolls and other toys! I recall a cardboard store, complete with boxes of goods to “buy,” and a plastic cash register. There was also a cardboard house! I grew up in MA, so we were neighbors!

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