I’m Gonna Buy You … by
(194 Stories)

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How I must have looked when reading the Sears catalog rather than the book shown

In April 1975, at the end of my senior year in college, I took a copywriting test to try to get a job writing blurbs for the Sears Roebuck catalog. It would be fun to live in Chicago and work in the Sears Tower, I thought. By this time I’d already been rejected by several large companies for their management training programs, thank heavens, because I had no interest in that type of career. I thought I had a good chance at the Sears job, and the catalog was very familiar to me.

"When you were hardly even three, you would sit with the Sears catalog on your crossed legs."

Although I remember the catalog clearly in my home, with its gargantuan size, infinite variety of items, and thousands of pages, for some reason there seemed to be more to the memory. When I mentioned to my parents that I’d taken the Sears Roebuck test, they both burst out laughing, and continued even after my puzzled expression. “I guess you don’t remember ‘I’m gonna buy you,'” my dad said.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” I replied. My mother explained. “When you were hardly even three, you would sit on the living room rug, or on the grass outside, with the Sears catalog on your crossed legs. You would flip through the pages and point to each picture, and then say ‘I’m gonna buy you …’ and name the item and give a detailed description. You named a lot of them and then would ask what some of them were, so you learned so many nouns that way. You did this for more than a year. By the time you were in first grade and learning to read, you read the catalog.”

My parents’ explanation made the memory fit, and I always enjoyed looking at the clothing in the catalog, although my family never ordered anything that I recall. These days, printed catalogs that come to me are few and far between, and while I love a lot about Amazon, especially the convenience, it is nice to remember the weight of that Sears catalog on my lap and the engagement I had with it.

What happened with the copywriting test? I passed with flying colors and was rated highly qualified. However, 1975 was a year of bad recession, and Sears wrote that they regretted they weren’t hiring for the foreseeable future. There went my fantasy of living in Chicago and working in the Sears Tower, but from then on I’ve had a soft spot for that enormous catalog of the 1950s.


Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Charming story, Marian, and glad that your parents reminded you of it. I had sort of the flip side of that when my daughters were young. They would carefully go through catalogues they were interested in — typically toys and girls’ clothing, of course — and circle in Crayon dozens of items they wanted and then leave the catalogues for their mother and me to see. They had a sense that, merely by circling these items, they would magically appear for their birthdays or at Christmas. Of course, some of them actually did appear, but their “hit rate” was about 1%. Happily, they came to realize the difference between Crayon circling and actually ordering (and paying for) an item.

    And sorry about the Sears job. They might still be thriving today if they had hired you!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    That is a lovely memory, Mare. I love the image of little you, sitting with that heavy catalog in your lap, pouring through it, pointing out all the lovely items you’d like to acquire. And, though writing blurbs for the catalog might not have been your actual goal, at least you passed the test with flying colors. I know that 1975 was a tough year, but good for you for trying. Your writing career took you elsewhere and you’ve done well.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I did end up writing catalog blurbs for electronic items way back when, along with more recent ecatalogs online for scientific products. I don’t really regret not having a job at Sears, but the test did help me focus on what my talents were.

  3. Oh, my, I’d forgotten about how immense the Sears Catalog was. Great memories!

  4. How sweet Mare, that your parents remembered how you poured over the Sears catalog, how you wanted to buy gifts for others, and best of all how it helped you learn to read.

    And sorry you didn’t get that corner office in the Windy City, but you ended up in sunny California!

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    The Sears catalog was legendary. I believe it was used thoroughly, particularly in rural locations, for paper in outhouses once it expired. You story is far more charming.

    • Marian says:

      I think the Sears catalog got more use of all kinds in rural areas, Khati. We lived in the New York metro area when my story takes place, so some city dwellers must have ordered from it. Glad you liked my kids eye view.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this story, Marian. It reminds me of a child in my preschool back in the day who only wanted to read the Granger catalog. His mother couldn’t believe he wasn’t interested in the huge library of children’s books she owned and told me never in her wildest dreams did she envision reading a catalog with her child. He turned out pretty well and is now a high school physics teacher. Maybe the catalog helped?

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    Sears was pretty much our bible when I was a kid. They hit us with catalogs for every season, many holidays, and of course there was “The Wish Book.”

    My favorite catalog to leaf through now is McMaster-Carr. If they don’t have it, you can probably do without it. They must own a small planet for their warehouse.

    Your test for Sears reminded me of a test I took for a job soon after we moved to Chicago in 1996. I can’t remember the details, but I do remember thinking the questions were quite odd. I later found out it was an “integrity test” to determine how likely I was to rifle the till. These were in vogue back then.

    I wonder if that was why I didn’t get the job?

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