You can order almost anything ...

Friday, November 14, 2003

The mail carriers at our house are nice people. Whenever I'm outside when the mail arrives, they wave and say hello. I like that. I like living in a town where mail carriers and the clerk at the grocery store and the waitress at your favorite breakfast spot know who you are and make a point of being neighborly.

A lot of these people that I exchange pleasantries with on a regular basis have names. But I don't know the names of our regular mail carriers. And, even though she has shown me photographs of her pets and her grandchildren, I don't know the name of the clerk at the grocery store.

Our mail carriers probably wonder why it's so hard to cram all the mail we get every day into our standard-size mailbox.

You see, my wife started getting catalogs a few years ago. A lot of these catalogs arrived because she ordered something from a store, and so the store thought it might get more orders if my wife received a catalog on a regular basis.

There is something about catalogs that you need to know. They are genetically related to rabbits. First you get one catalog along with the bills and credit-card applications. Then you start getting two or three catalogs. In our mailbox, we sometimes get as many as 20 catalogs in one day. How did that happen?

My wife looks at most of the catalogs. There are pretty things. There are expensive things. There are things from woolen mills and art galleries. There are things to eat that you've never tasted before in your life -- and probably never will.

She gives me some of the catalogs, the ones with gadgets and electronic equipment. And toys.

I never tire of looking at toy catalogs. Remember when Montgomery-Ward and Sears sent out their special Christmas toy catalogs? It was always a happy day when the "Christmas books" were dropped into the mailbox alongside the highway a mile up the gravel road from the farmhouse on Killough Valley where I grew up in the Ozark hills over yonder.

The toys you can buy these days are amazing. They appear to be quite a bit more complicated than the toys I grew up with. There are a lot of electronic and scientific toys. There are puzzles that, if you finish them, qualify you for automatic membership in Mensa.

One day this week, I was sitting at the kitchen counter looking at a toy catalog while my wife puttered through her daily stash of mail. "Look at that," I said. "What?" "Look at all these toys our boys would have loved when they were young."

Sure enough, there were a lot of contraptions that need batteries. Gosh, how many batteries have we purchased in our lifetimes?

But I got stuck on one page. I kept looking at it -- and looking at it some more. My wife noticed I was spending a lot of time on one page of a catalog.

"See something you want?" she asked. "Yeah." She came over to look. "You want a Make Your Own River set?" she said. "No." "Then what are you looking at?"

I pointed to the page. In the catalog, the Make Your Own River set is being assembled by a 5-year-old with a thatch of straw-colored hair wearing a striped T-shirt. "There, " I said. "That's what I want."

In spite of all the catalogs we get, my wife says you can't order a grandkid. That doesn't seem fair.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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