I’ve written before about getting the Sears catalog at Christmas, and pouring over the pages of shiny, colored photographs. I especially remember that tall matchbox car garage, something I dreamed about but never thought I’d really get for Christmas.
We were never deprived of toys and things we wanted, it’s just that there were always things in that catalog we only dreamed about. Looking back, I’m thankful we had things to dream about and save for.
Back then, I also remember watching KPLR television with my brother, and there would be a commercial for a big toy store in St. Louis. I cannot remember what store it was, but they would advertise a shopping spree contest every year. Maybe some of you remember.
My brother and I would watch that commercial every time it came on. We didn’t have large toy stores like that in our town of 6,000. Heck, we didn’t have Walmart back then, either. The biggest toy store we had was the dime store up town and the few stores that carried toys in those days might have had an aisle or two, if that. We were limited.
The toy store in this commercial seemed to have toy assortments from floor to ceiling. In our mind’s eye, we saw rows of racetracks, bicycles, train sets, matchbox cars. You name it. All of our favorite and most desired toys lived at that store.
I remember watching that commercial with my brother one day, and after it ended, we began a joint dream about how we’d plan our strategy if we were to win the contest. Now, mind you, we never even entered. Traveling to St. Louis as winners of a toy shopping spree was akin to getting that fabulous car garage in the Sears catalog. But it was sure fun to dream about and discuss.
We envisioned ourselves getting two big carts. I suppose we thought we would both win equal shots at the contest; if not, we’d support one another somehow. If my brother won, I would certainly reap the benefits and vice versa.
Our strategy included heading for the electric car track and train track aisle first. We’d get that large items placed under the cart, then head for the matchbox car aisle and toss packages of cars in, willy nilly. On top of the cars would be tossed those great orange strips of plastic that could be pieced together into still more racetracks, looping and twisting as far as the eye could see. Lincoln logs, board games, roller skates, remote control cars, farm machinery, building blocks, and all the additional matchbox car accessories we could find (we loved those things). The list was endless.
Yet, we had to figure out a way to get it all in the cart in under a minute so we could make it to the front checkouts.
This was in the late 1970s, so a lot of the gizmos and gadgets we started to see in the early 80s had yet to be out there and common knowledge. I do remember there being the ever-popular “Pong” available back then, so I’m sure that getting some controllers to hook up to our beautiful console TV set would have been part of that shopping spree.
The days of Atari, Space Invaders, and even that light-up game Simon (remember) had yet to make an appearance on the toy circuit.
We would have been in a state of disbelief, even if we had received one of those toys for a present; heck, we would have been in disbelief if one of our friends received one. The majority of our homes were not large enough for racetracks or train sets, so many of us were in the same boat. Most kids who lived in small town America probably dreamed of large toys they didn’t have room for.
There would be plenty of debate and plenty of discussion as my brother planned our great, if make believe, shopping spree. Often, the conversation would spill out into the yard and we’d talk it over with our neighborhood pals. I am certain that if any of us would have won that contest (none of us ever entered, to my knowledge), we would have hauled back enough toys to share with everyone.
I mean, why not load that cart with several identical items so everyone on the block could have one?
Train sets for everyone!
We may have been dreamers, but we weren’t greedy.