SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

When you Wish upon a Book



December 29, 2016
Thursday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
About 335 columns ago, I wrote wistfully about how joyous Christmas was when I was a child and I had all those presents to look forward to each year.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

I get that it makes me sound like a consumeristic me-me-me kind of person to admit that, but I still like stuff.

And I really-really-really liked stuff even more when I was four or five years old.

About that time I fell in love with a little stuffed camel in the Race Avenue Drugstore toy department. My mother decided that rather than buy it for me, it was time for me to work for it. So I did "chores" for a couple weeks to raise the scratch.

Then $5 in hand, I went down to the store (one of my older brothers was with me). But I had not accounted for "tax."

When the pretty young clerk, who I'm sure my brother was trying to make time with, told me the camel really cost $5.12, I lost it.

Really lost it.

Really, really lost it.

I lost it like an avalanche from Hell howling down from Deer Mountain.

I lost it like the biggest tsunami that ever slammed into Bugge Beach (or at least the biggest one you could imagine, no tsunamis have slammed into Bugge Beach in my lifetime).

I wailed like I was keening for all the other children of the world who could not afford something they really, really wanted. Badly

My brother was so embarrassed he slapped down the 12 cents on the counter, I grabbed the camel and we left.

I had been taught something very valuable.

You CAN always get what you want.

As long as you holler loud enough.

And that was four decades before I decided to enter politics.

Hey, it's not my fault. I was raised that way

So why am I thinking about that now?

Well, recently someone asked me what my favorite book was growing up.

I had to think a while because I read a lot a lot a lot of books when I was growing up and only a handful still stood out from earliest years.

A lot of Dr. Suess, some Curious George, a bit of Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. You get the drift.

Sure, my mother read me all the Tolkien books and other such childhood doorstops, but I am thinking about books I read myself.

I guess, if I had to be completely honest, I would have to say my favorite "book" year in and year out was one that came every Fall, the "Sears Wish Book."

Yeah, yeah, I get that it's not really a "book" in the traditional sense. It was a Christmas catalog. And that was in the days when catalogs were still catalogs, before they began aspiring to something "greater."

Just a bunch of pictures of fetching items slapped on the page, with all manner of brief descriptions, just perfect for boy-splaining to Mom and Dad why I really needed to have them. Nothing more noble than that.

It was only a couple of decades ago, J. Peterman tried to fuse high concept living with catalog shopping, as if you could replicate a trip up the Zambezi by ordering a couple of spiffy African safari caps.

Now when you open a catalog, you aren't ordering a fluffy sweater, you are making a lifestyle choice.

But I digress.

Come to think of it, though. when I used to open up the Wish Book, it WAS like doing a complete toy makeover!

And it was certainly a "page turner" as I tore through it to get past the grownup stuff and into the toy section.

Well, since I'm a curious kind of guy, I started wondering if nostalgia is no longer what it used to be. So I tracked down a copy of the Wishbook. It was one from 1970, One of the first all-color ones. I would have been 11 then. A little older, perhaps, but still obsessed with "stuff."

Even now, a look inside a 1970 WISHBOOK is itself a great journey into all that was possible in the child's life. For $17.99, in 1970, you could get a Centennial '66' Carbine BB gun," the spitting image of the Old West saddle gun!"

Of course, by that time, I had already graduated to .22s and .306s, so a BB gun wasn't that big of a deal. Still you could feel the excitement of some boy's first "weapon."

And no one was warning you that "you could put your eye out."

For the girls, and even at that stage I was very curious about the ways of the opposite sex, you could get a travel time Barbie playset, complete with Barbie, for $12.99.

You could get a lot of Barbies, actually. One for every mood of the day. And of course, you could get Ken. Not sure exactly what "Ken" was supposed to be. Even back then, Ken seemed way too "Ken" ish to be interesting. Most of the girls I knew were always asking if "G.I. Joe" could come over to "play." Go figure.

There was an Easy Bake Oven for $11.95. One of the neighbor girls had one of those. It was kind of cool, but the "food" never quite tasted like food. I guess that wasn't really the point.

There were also plenty of clothes on the girls' pages, another curiosity. Boys didn't think about closes as Christmas gifts. You never wanted "clothes" for Christmas. At least I didn't.

Maybe it's different with all the camouflage underwear and stuff today, but I doubt it.

Anyway, the girls section of the 1970 Wishbook had lots of dresses and what-have-you. It was a more formal time, I guess.

The "shape keeping" knit dresses in the "airy crochet" patterns" are still kinda funny looking today. But in retrospect so was the fact that the catalog advertised them as "also in chubby sizes." Wow, really? Bad Sears. Bad, bad Sears!!

But quickly, even now, I paged ahead to the boys toys.

There was a whole platoon of different types of GI Joes ($9.95 for Green Beret GI Joe with the jungle fatigue jacket and the camo scarf, bazooka and field radio).

I had one of those Green Beret ones until my dog chewed it's head off. Wonder what it would cost to get one now? Probably a lot more than $9.95.

And that was the heyday of the race car tracks, the Aurora Powerslicks where the cars sped around on the little electric rails (until they flipped off, which they did about 90 percent of the time on the corners, maybe we were just bad drivers).

Those were also when Hot Wheels started to make their mark and for $9.99 you could get a Hot Wheels garage or a small race track. Of course, for the more sedate, there were Matchbox cars. Just not the same.

For $13.95 you could get the a bigger dual track Hot Wheels track with loop the loops, a jump, and a power booster that kept the cars going around the non electric track.

My favorite (and on my xmas list) was the "Snake versus Mongoose" dual drag strip. Although it came with power boosters, it was cooler to put the starting line on top of a chair or a couch and then gravity would pull the Snake and Mongoose down the track, through the finish, when little parachutes would pop out to "stop" them.

The parachutes never seemed to work right, nor did the "big belt booster" that was supposed to catapult them (which was why we had to raise the starting line onto the furniture in the first place).

Anyway, you could get the whole Snake/Mongoose shebang for $14.95, which was a significant part of my Wish Book total. In those days, my parents would usually tell me I could pick out what I wanted, up to $25 ($155.75 in 2016!).

Just to say, someone was selling a "mint condition w/box" Snake Versus Mongoose dual drag strip on Ebay a couple of months ago. It went for about $150. Nostalgia ain't as cheap as it use to be, either, but it's apparently less than twice inflation.

Speaking of nostalgia, did you know that one of this year's "hot tech toys" is a cell phone that looks exactly like the old Star Trek Communicators? Beam. Me. Up! Only $149.99, plus exorbitant shipping to Alaska. If they were really cool they could just beam the communicators to us rather than charging us $50 for something that barely weighs a pound.

But I digress, again.

Also on my list in 1970 was the Los Angeles Rams football uniform (complete with shoulder and thigh pads, NOT RECOMMENDED FOR CONTACT FOOTBALL). It was number 18 for star quarterback Roman Gabriel.

I actually ended up getting the Rams football uniform one of those years, I think it went for $19.99 (no tax on catalog sales!). The helmet was nice and sturdy, but the rest of the "uniform" got shredded pretty quickly playing tackle football in the front yard. Sue me.

And there was always one group of items in those books that was out of reach.

The top end, the bee's knees "for boys" were the no name "mini bikes" that could be had for a mere $219.95 ($488.34 in 2016 dollars).

Way out of our family budget.

Even if the mine bikes did have "scrappy 4 horsepower, 4 cycle engines" capable of "speeding along at up to 24 mph."

Probably just as well, they were out of our budget; 24 mph would have been ludicrous speed for an 11-year-old.

Especially 11-year-old me.

So that is my re-reading of a favored childhood book.

Like a lot of the books I read back then it was very repetitive in order to reinforce good reading habits.

And there were lots of cool pictures to keep me interested.

It didn't much of a plot (boy meets toy, boy gets toy, boy breaks toy, boy gets new toy).

But it always had a VERY happy ending.



On the Web:

Columns by Dave Kiffer

Historical Feature Stories by Dave Kiffer


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2016

Representations of fact and opinions in comments posted are solely those of the individual posters and
do not represent the opinions of Sitnews.


Submit A Letter to SitNews

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2016
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews may be protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper sources.

E-mail your news & photos to

Photographers choosing to submit photographs for publication to SitNews are in doing so granting their permission for publication and for archiving. SitNews does not sell photographs. All requests for purchasing a photograph will be emailed to the photographer.


SitNews ©2014
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

Contact the Editor