Wish Books

Aunt Katy wrote this Tale about 40 years ago, before the internet and QVC entered her life.

They are back again, those garishly decked, highly colored temptresses - seed catalogs. Their bewitching charms are alluringly displayed on page after colorful page. The inference is that one need only tuck the various seeds, bulbs, and bushes into the ground to produce an equally brilliant display.

Yearly we succumb to their blandishments and order more than we can plant, tend or use. It is so easy to picture a riot of tulips thronging the front dooryard, a flood of golden daffodils flowing beside the walk, and a whole carillon of bell-like hyacinths chiming gently in the soft spring breeze.

Who can resist the prospect of envious, awestruck fellow-gardeners standing speechlessly before an exotic Crown Imperial flower or a giangantic globed Jewels of Tibet? Is there not some unused corner you have always intended turning into a rock garden? Just a few barrow full of dirt and a trunk-load or two of those colorful rocks you spotted the other day on your drive through the back roads, and look what you could plant! Hens and chickens, (old-fashioned but nice), creeping phlox (your choice of four colors), anemone, bleeding-heart, all tease to be included.

Wouldn't it be fun to have your own apples? Just think how refreshing it would be to walk through your plantation, picking and eating your own, homegrown fruit. There is even one tree that offers five varieties on one trunk. Or to have peaches, their golden skins blushing under the hot August sun and dripping honeyed juices as you bite into one. Cherries, great black Ox-Hearts to eat and sour red Montmorencies to can for pies. Yes, cherries, too, cannot be so very hard to grow.

"Be sure to plant this variety," reads one page; "Grows rapidly with little or no care," boasts another; "Grows in heavily shaded areas," promises still a third; "Requires no special soil," brags the next. Lush, colorful, hardy, ever-bearing, continuous-blooming, spectacular, all words to snare the easily enraptured gardener. So the order grows as, weary of winter's cold grip and drab face, we bask in the promise of warm days happily spent mucking about in the earth.

Other related items are advertised at this time of year. Order your Little-Handy-Dandy-Garden-Tractor-Mower and see how much more you enjoy your garden this summer. Bouncy-Wouncy-Garden-Kneeler, guaranteed to protect your knees from damp, soil, and stain. Wreck-less-Rake grabs more weeds, trash, and stones, leaves seedlings, and young, tender grass-shoots untouched. Heavy-Hands-Hoe, breaks up the hardest earth with the least effort. Mi-Lady's-Garden-Rite Tools are sturdy yet delicately built for the lady gardener's lovely hands. Green-Skin-Gloves protect without unnecessary bulk so you can feel what you are planting with no nasty black fingernails afterward.

If you wish to garden in style, you need but turn to the new Spring and Summer catalogs to find a costume to suit every taste. Short shorts, bell-bottomed trousers, divided skirts, or jeans in every color and many materials are all awaiting your order. No longer must you garden in father's old overalls and a well-worn shirt with an elderly straw hat for a sunshade.

This is the season for all catalogs to arrive, heavy with fashions and overflowing with all that is needed to refresh a winter wardrobe. Even in this day of quick and ready transportation, the mail-order catalogs are eagerly awaited and welcomed into thousands of homes. How much more welcome they were sixty years ago!

In the far-off days before pictures were printed, news of ladies fashions traveled by word of mouth or the more graphic means of a "fashion baby", a doll with an extensive wardrobe. By the end of the nineteenth century however, Madame had learned to count on the catalog to bring her the latest styles. Ready-made clothes might not often be ordered but the illustrations were copied by skillful seamstresses in materials purchased from the "wish book".

Wallpaper for the front bedroom, brother's high-laced boots with a jackknife included, grandma's best black shawl, lawn for baby's dresses, and harness for the team might all come in one big bundle. Just as important as the actual purchases were the hours spent studying the catalog's pages. Reading and arthimetic skills benefitted as children made out wistful orders. Father and son drew closer together in the consideration of shotguns and that strange new invention, the motorcar. Mother and daughter put their heads together over ribbons, laces, styles, and colors of garments.

What is there in television to compete with the old-fashioned Wish Book? Nothing on that animated lightbulb can be yours and you know it. Everything on the pages of a catalog could be yours for the ordering, provided you can pay for it. These things have a place in everyday life. Real as catalog items may be, they are things that dreams are made of.

Spring is not here yet, cold weather still lies heavily on the land, but the promise of summer arrives long before the first robin. It comes wrapped in brown paper, too big for the mailbox, but hardly big enough for all the promises it holds. Spring comes in January with each catalog the mailman brings, whether it be general merchandise or colorful nursery stock. Both augur hours of dreaming, the delight of new possessions, and material for valentines, paperdolls, play stores, and research into the changing culture of our country when they are out-dated and replaced by the next season's issue.