Battle with Sears

By Margie Bailey Rose


The Sears catalog was a staple in my childhood home (and in our outhouse.)  We called it the Wish Book, but it held all the practical items a country family needed as well as the luxuries we dreamed of owning.  When I became an adult I continued to order from the catalog and shop at Sears stores as well.  Winnie the Pooh dresses for my girls, Craftsman tools for my husband, and most of our appliances came from Sears.  We had a regular Sears charge card and one for big-ticket items.  Sears loved my family.  At least I thought they did.


We moved from Washington to California, and I did not bring my catalogs thinking Sears would offer different items for the southern climate (fewer snow tires and more swim suits.)  We went to the nearest Sears store and asked for a local catalog.  The clerk said they were all the same and we would have to order something to get a catalog. When flashing both of my Sears credit cards did not persuade the clerk behind the counter to bend the rules, I sarcastically asked how I could order something without a catalog.  She pointed to the chained-down counter catalog.  I remember thinking that there must be an underground business in stolen Sears catalogs– California really was strange.


We avoided Sears for a few months until my oldest son decided to order tires for his pickup.  I went along when he picked them up thinking surely two truck tires would be enough to get us a catalog and maybe even a thank you for our business.  The same woman, Miss Prune Face, was behind the counter and I walked up to her with my son's paperwork from the tire order and asked her ever so nicely for a catalog.  She took the paperwork and read it carefully, asked my son his name and gave us the evil eye over her glasses. She said she could not give us a catalog because– pronouncing each word carefully–""  I lost my friendly attitude and my temper in the same second, naming her to a new subspecies of mammals and explaining what she could do with her catalogs.  My son quickly dragged me out of the store with his hand over my mouth.  I swore I would never buy another thing from Sears and ordered everyone in the family to abstain as well.  We would pay off the credit cards and that would be that!


Several more months elapsed and my boycott of Sears was going strong, but I suspected my husband was sneaking in for tools now and then.  The lifetime guarantee was more persuasive than risking his wife's wrath.  Fall was coming and school-clothes shopping from the Sears catalog had been a ritual in our family forever.  I knew it would be tough to hold out, especially for #5 who was entering kindergarten and begging for the cute Sears dresses advertised on TV.  My husband interceded on #5's behalf and persuaded me to give Sears one more chance.  He borrowed a catalog from a friend at work and the whole family made their choices.  The order included $250 in school clothes and a double-burner pancake griddle.  I made sure to ask for a new catalog when I called in the order and asked to have it sent to a different store so I would not have to deal with Miss Persimmon Face in the store closest to our home.


The kids were so excited about their new clothes that the whole family went to pick them up.  It was a hot day in mid-August in San Diego, and we had no air conditioning in the big station wagon.  I was trying to stay calm, but seeing the Sears sign on our way into the parking lot raised my already high temperature.  There was a long line at the will-call counter, so my husband took the kids browsing while I stood in line.  The line inched forward and I was thankful for the cool air in the store. 


When it was finally my turn I gave my husband's name to the sweet-faced young lady, and she went in search of our packages.  It took two clerks to carry them all out, and as I was signing for the charge I asked, ever so casually, for my catalog.  There were hundreds of them stacked behind the counter.  Miss Sweet Face picked up my paperwork and carefully looked at page after page– I knew what was coming.  I don't remember her exact words as I was already into full attack mode with lights flashing behind my eyes and a roaring in my ears.  I picked up the nearest object, which happened to be the cast-iron double-burner griddle, and brought it back over my shoulder for a good swing at her head.  There was a scream from somewhere, and my husband tackled me from behind.  I crashed against the counter and dropped the griddle.  He grabbed #6 in one arm and me in the other and dragged me kicking and screaming to the car and threw me in.  The other kids followed behind with #5 crying and #4 wearing her most pathetic boo-boo face.  I continued to rant while Dad sorted out the situation.  He was never good with crying girls and by then all three were in tears at the thought of leaving without their new clothes.  Number 3 sat in the car in shock.  He had never seen his mother actually attack anyone.  Threaten yes, many times, but attack, no.


With an order to me not to get out of the *#@ car, husband #2 walked back into the store and came back with all the packages.  He threw them in the back of the car and slammed the tailgate.  The girls were just as happy as they could be, while #3 and I sat in silence all the way home.  As I was putting things away I noticed the griddle had a crack– how do you suppose that happened?  Since I half expected an assault charge from the counter clerk, I decided not to return the griddle.  I cut up the credit cards and mailed them to Sears with a check to cover every penny we owed and a letter explaining my anger.  I said that if so much as a flier with their name on it came in my mail I would make someone eat it.  To my amazement not even one piece of Sears advertising came to my house during the fifteen years we continued to live in California.


Now that I am back in Washington I shop at Sears occasionally, but the relationship is gone.  I gave the old griddle to #6 who bakes pancakes on it and tells the story whenever a guest notices the crack.