“Mare – yun,” my mother calls (yells, actually), “It’s time to lick the green stamps again. The books are on top of the kitchen table.” Mom likes to interrupt my reading. To me time with my books is serious business but to her it’s play. Not working. Wasting time with books unless it’s homework, she thinks.
As I moisten the stamps with my tongue, the glue tastes gooey and sweet. Mom usually receives one Green Stamp in exchange for every dime spent at check-out. I fill the two or three green books until they are fat, each stuffed with 24 pages of unevenly gummed and incompletely perforated paper rectangles. Books of these items can be redeemed for gifts. Mother gets a catalog from the stamp company’s showroom, then matches the item she wants against its price in stamps, paying for it with stamps rather than with cash. She probably has something picked out already. I notice the cover on the ironing board has lots of scorch marks and is wearing thin, so I guess she’ll get an ironing-board cover with one of the books.
The gifts are usually household items like a set of mixing bowls, an ironing-board cover or something big, as writer Phyllis Tickle describes when she traded her green stamps for her daughter Nora’s baby stroller:
Surprisingly cheap is usually just cheap in premium exchanges, I have found. It certainly was in this case. The thing was made of aluminum so light and thin that the frame itself could not have weighed in at a full pound. The whole stroller did not weigh in at two. The wheels were scarcely a half-inch wide and definitely not a quarter-inch thick.
The sides and back of the contraption were of a plasticized, loosely woven plaid fabric neither Sam [husband] nor I could identify. The result was a kind of sling-on-wheels that had grown less and less appealing to my maternal instincts as I had become more and more of a mother and less and less of a mother-to-be. However, we did have a stroller. Hmmmm . . . .
Later, she concedes though “those were the good old days when strollers were strollers and not miniature, padded tanks.” (294).
A shoppers’ rewards program for loyal customers, the Sperry and Hutchinson Company dates as far back as 1896. During the 1960s, the company issued three times as many green stamps as the U.S. Postal Service. After a series of recessions and the decreasing value of the stamps most house-wives didn’t think saving stamps was worth the trouble. However, green stamps still persist in popular culture. In A Hard Day’s Night (1964), starring the Beatles, John Lennon mentions Green Stamps when joking to Paul McCartney that he’ll get the best lawyer they can buy. In the hit “Speedy Gonzales” (1962) by Pat Boone, Mel Blanc sings the final words of the song in Speedy Gonzales’ voice, “Hey Rosita, come quick, down at the cantina they’re giving green stamps with tequila!”
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Mother doesn’t drive to the Green Stamp showroom on her own to redeem her stamps because she doesn’t have a license. But there’s a Lancaster – Elizabethtown bus that goes right by our house along Old Route 230. She knows when to tell me to pull on the cord over-head that buzzes to tell the driver where to stop in town. We’ll go to the W. T. Grant store because it has most of what she needs. Our next stop is the Gladdell Shop with pretty dresses. In the window I see a sleek, lavender dress made of chiffon fabric on the mannikin. It’s pleated at the waist and has a belt with a rhinestone-studded buckle. I imagine jut how slithery and cool it would feel gliding over my skin. I would be instantly chic and stylish, not plain. But Mother is completely blind to the fancy frocks and heads for the lingerie department. A night-gown? Some hosiery? (She always orders a boring shade called “gun-metal.”) No, she has picked out a smocked, tricot bed jacket in blue with a bow to wear in the hospital over her gown when Mark is born and visitors appear.
The shopping trip gets even sweeter near the end. Mom will check her watch, so that we will have just enough time to go to the Rex-All Drug Store before the bus picks us up heading back east. Dr. Garber usually dispenses pills in little white envelopes from his office, so we are not interested in the pharmacy at the drug store.
Instead we head straight to the soda fountain which is as close to theatre as I’m going to get. Stepping inside the chrome rails that mark the fountain area off from the rest of the store, we sit on the red leatherette cushioned stools that spin. Fluorescent tubes of light above the fountain equipment advertise bubbly ice cream sodas with a straw. Above it like rays from the aurora borealis but stretched around the perimeter of the fountain area is a glow of bluish-purple lights illuminating the walls. Then I look up and see stars sparkling from the ceiling. I’m in heaven. Until the bus comes all too soon.
What story can you tell about green stamps or soda fountains?
Something you can add about a different memory from the 1950s or 60s?