My Father, Roger Verle Caple

Family history writing prompt 5:  Choose an ancestor, a year and 3 items from a Sears catalog of the same year, to give this person. Why did you make the choices you made?

For this prompt I used the 1930 Sears fall/winter catalog and my Dad, who would have been eight years-old. To make my pretend gift giving more fun, I decided to include his sister and one item the entire family could enjoy.

The opening page of the 1930 fall/winter catalog proclaimed itself to be the “thrift book of the nation” and went on to say, “reckless spending is a thing of the past” and promised, “prices much lower than anytime in the past ten years.”

By the winter of 1930 the Great Depression had begun. The census taken earlier in the year had listed my Grandfather’s work as logging, an industry the depression would hit hard. It is possible that by December he no longer had regular work. A tight rein on expenditures would be needed if his family were to survive the coming years.

Imaginary Gifts

I can see my dad, laying on a rug, the catalog opened to the dog-eared page filled with Lionel trains. Oh how he longed to have one of those trains. Why they even had real lights.

I’m sure he spent time looking at the other toys – the trucks, cars, balls, games and building sets etc. He must have thought the giant stocking filled with 30 gifts including whistles, a mitt, balls, puzzles, yo yo’s, crayons, marbles and much more would be nice to receive.  But what he really wanted was a train.

His sister, who had just turned 12, was outgrowing toys, it was the dresses, hats and coats for the stylish 12-16 year old that captured her attention. When she got to the pages filled with radios and telephones, she probably dreamed of the day when her family could finally own one.

With this in mind I made the following choices:

For my Dad, I chose the most popular Lionel electric train set priced at 11.98 including postage. It came complete with track, a locomotive with 2 headlights, 2 illuminated pullman cars, one illuminating observation car, warning signals, etc. It also needed a 10 volt transformer or battery at an additional $3.59, making the set a total of $15.67. When you realize in today’s dollars the set would have cost $214.39, you can understand why he didn’t get one. A family worried about their future didn’t have money for such purchases.

My next choice was the stocking filled with trinkets. What little boy wouldn’t enjoy getting a stocking filled with 30 gifts. At $1.79 it seems like a bargain, but in today’s world it would be $25. More likely he got one or two inexpensive cars and a stocking filled with oranges, nuts and candy.

My Dad enjoyed engineering so for my third gift I chose the “Starter Erector” set. Cheaper than the train at  $4.51, it would still cost $62.00 today. There were many fancier and more expensive sets but the starter set seemed best for an eight year-old.

For his sister, I chose a dress that was a saving from the similar dress sold the previous year – or so the catalog said. Made of a good, warm cotton suiting, with a smart woven pattern, embroidered stitching and a hip belt, it came in medium blue and sold for  $3.98. ($54.73 today)

To  go over the dress I added a wrap style, navy blue coat of 9/10 chinchilla wool with a genuine fur collar. It had a heavy fleecy cotton suede lining. The cost was $9.95. ($136.73 today)

To complete the look I picked a navy Classmates hat styled for the modern girl who demanded the newest fashions. Framing the face it gave a look of youthfulness and charm and came with felt bow and rhinestone ornaments. The cost was $2.98. ($40.98 today)

One of the questions asked on the 1930 census was whether or not the household owned a radio. Of the 15 houses enumerated on the same page as my Dad’s family, 7 households had radios. Their house was not one of them, so my pick for the family gift was a radio.

Knowing my grandfather was a frugal man, who would never approve the purchase of the $164 console radio, ($2,255.24 today) complete with a remote for turning it on and setting the stations from ones’ easy chair, I chose a modest table top model at  $41.50. ($570.69 today)

It was billed as the greatest performing all-electric receiver ever offered. With 8-tube-all-electric neutrodyne, it came in a dark rich bronze color. Apparently you still needed to purchase the tubes bringing the total price to 61.50. ( $845.00 today)

I don’t know when the family finally got a radio. My aunt wrote that her Mother enjoyed going to her parent’s house to listen to western music shows. My Grandmother passed away 3 years later, so I am guessing they didn’t have a radio until after 1933.  My Dad never did get the train he so wanted.




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