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Learning American

‘The Big Book’  (1893-1993) R.I.P.
Recognizing one of this country’s greatest teachers.   By JB Blocker

The Millennials don’t know about this. Much of the GenX Generation don’t either. As an immigrant from the ‘60’s, the Sears and Roebuck catalogue was one of my best friends. It taught me America!

  The first true Sears catalogue was produced and distributed in 1893. Many others were to follow. It became an iconic life line of what people wanted and needed across America. It you had a mailing address, you could own anything in those pages.
  Clothing, toys, guns, farm tools, kitchen, living room, garage items, even houses and cars stirred the imagination of families from the city streets to farms, fields, and newly discovered parts of this growing country.
  I remember in the early ‘70s listening to some old cowboys at the local pool hall in my panhandle farming community. They got in to a discussion about the new Christmas catalogue at the Montgomery Ward’s one day. 
  The talk started over the price of things. But the discussion moved to how they had been making their wish list from those catalogues most of their lives. Those pictures of what the world looked like outside of their world gave them reasons to save their money.
  Studying catalogues allowed America to become aware of the choices they never had before and how much money they would need to save.
  A few of those senior citizens also talked about the catalogues as a teaching tool. You could learn how to read while you were learning the value of all those items available from the pages of pictures, descriptions, and prices.
My Crash Course

  I was 5 when I left a Japanese orphanage for the U.S.A. In less than a year I would be enrolled into 1st Grade. My new mother had a plan! Mom, Dad, and my 16-year-old new sister Mona would sit with me and show me the pictures.
  As each picture was pointed out I would learn the word. If it was item A you would search for the A under their descriptions. It was an effective method to be taught day to day items.
  With this method you can teach the basics of life in America that expands into their descriptions and especially the cost of things! $

  I have watched immigration come from all over the world in this great country and wondered why so many can live here for so long and still not communicate skillfully on the streets of America. Reading is so important that even blind people learn how.
  I learned conversational English very quickly. I don’t think I am exceptional. What I do think is ‘God Bless My Mom’ for teaching me America as quickly as she did. And I really believe that the Sears and Roebuck catalogue was as effective as any other tool could have been. It also inspires you with what is obtainable.
  By 6th grade we had moved to the flattest part of the Texas panhandle where farms, feed yards, and gas wells were all you could see for 20 miles in every direction. Sunray had a Montgomery Ward’s outlet to order and retrieve from.
  We could only pick up ABC and NBC television stations unless someone, usually me, went outside and turned the antenna pole. Dad or Mom would stand near the window and tell me when we had CBS. Until I graduated and moved away, that was my job through Rain, and Sleet, and Snow if we wanted to see our favorite shows.
  Our family would prepare for school season by going through the catalogue choosing what we would order and what it would cost. 
  I worked on farm crews during my 13th summer and counted the hours it took to pay for the jacket and shoes I especially wanted. I remember being able to order my own Sunday suit from Sears because my friends bought the Ward's brand.
  There are now hundreds of cable and internet commercials, TV channels, and movies to keep you in touch with the world and what’s new. There are thousands of magazines and still the local newspaper. 
  Before all that, much of America counted on the original Sears to show us choices by the thousands.
The Baby Boomers and Pre-Gen Xers are the last to find a Spring/Summer Sears Catalogue in the living room. They stopped producing them in 1993 after 100 years of teaching America.
  I can’t say I’d use one if I had one now. But since I’ve written this, I do need to find a few. Heck the latest one is almost an antique.
  My entire childhood was tuned to the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer editions. We couldn’t wait to lay on the living room floor and find the price of things that interested us.
  As a teenage boy, one day the entire front section of the catalogue was removed. From then on, mom always removed that part. If you recall, they started with the ladies wear which included negligees and other items that fine Christian boys should never be looking at.

Now, back to learning America.
  I have a feeling that a full service catalogue that is not just on-line could be useful and cost effective. There are thousands here in America who don't have computers and an internet connection who are hungry to know our country, culture, and life styles. 
  They have TV's but that won't help you read in order to learn to write. Many people could subsidize their learning with a good old fashioned Sears catalogue!
  Unfortunately, it’s been 24 years since the last mass distribution. It phased to a 'Wish Book' and then specialty editions before they disappeared totally. 
  How many of those living here and moving here will never know about how Sears catalogues were part of the heart beat of millions of Americans for 100 years.
  I guess there is still Neiman-Marcos but I wouldn't consider that a reflection of America.

- J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Collin County in North Texas. Advertise with J.B. by calling 469-334-9962.

1 comment:

  1. Man, really brings back some memories. Thanks.