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April 28, 2018

Growing up in Louisa ...Free gifts!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

A marketing ploy of the mid-forties, fifties and into the sixties were a number of ‘free’ gimmicks used by retailers to increase loyalties to stores, and in some cases, specific brands. One that I remember was when manufacturers added an item such as a dish or washcloth in a box of laundry detergent. I’ve seen the old ‘Jewel Tea’ dishes in many older family homes, but seldom in homes from later generations. Some of our best china (not) came one at a time in oatmeal. Even wash cloths and drinking glasses came this way.

The grand hope of getting something free is nothing more than a marketing ploy to sell the products, but human nature being what it is, folks love to think they’re getting something over on the company. Never mind that it is the company who makes the offer, we still felt like winners when we laid our hands on the prizes. This kind of thing has not gone away, but is still in advertising all around us. Who hasn’t watched late night TV and saw a miraculous new product being offered…wait a minute, ‘If you order right now we will double the offer.’ (‘Only pay a small shipping charge and the second one is yours.) We know that if we were to hold out a minute more we may get a set of steak knives that never need sharpening and are guaranteed to cut through metal. Oh, my. It goes on and on. Frankly, some things I’ve seen have raised my interest, but overall, the products are unneeded and come with the risk they are not worth the money. Besides, I already have steak knives. It’s the steak that I don’t have, silly!

Since I enjoy painting pictures and do other crafts, as does Suzie, we have learned to do all of our supply buying with coupons in hand. One major craft-store puts out various coupons once or twice a week. They show up in the newspaper and through my email. So many coupons are offered that it makes me wonder if the fair and honest retail prices are only offered to those people who have coupons. The rest of them are over-paying. Paying full price makes little sense unless you have a craft emergency, whatever that is.   

After leaving Kentucky I later worked with several large retail stores, working up to a good position with each. We would buy products at wholesale and place them on the shelves and racks in our stores. It was common that we would mark up the goods by twice the wholesale amount. This would cover our overhead, which includes utilities, the building, advertising, payroll, and finally reductions we had to make to clear out the left-over or seasonal items. There were times when I would go to the wholesalers or manufacturers and buy lots of goods at clearance prices. This would enable me to put them in stores at a greatly reduced price, thus passing savings to the customer. What was not seen was that I was still making double the actual wholesale price. It was just that this price had been lowered. My profits soared because of the jump in actual sales. It was nice for a time being a hero.    

Back when we were growing up it was common for cereal makers to include a toy prize, or a premium that was placed in the box. Cracker Jacks is famous for their prize at the bottom, and they still use that, if not to attract new sales, then to keep the tradition. Others had kids accumulate a number of ‘box tops’ to send in for a decoder ring, badge, or a secret membership card. Even today kids get excited over the free gift toy in their McDonalds Happy Meal.

The biggest seller for boys in my day were the collectable baseball cards issued by Topps and other companies originally meant as a ‘premium’ for buying gum, tobacco, or whatever. Frankly, the gum wasn’t all that good, but the thrill of getting a ‘good’ player’s baseball card was worth it. I would buy packs of cards kept close to the checkout counters in the stores around town. I remember once or twice when Andy York kindly bought a whole box of cards and sold them to me at his cost. When I went through those boxes wrappers and gum got tossed, but the cards were sorted and added to my growing collection. I would sometimes trade with friends to enhance both our libraries, each now owning cards we didn’t have before. If I still had them they would have a lot of value now. I had Babe Ruth cards, tobacco cards, and tons of Topps cards from the fifties. When I went to the service I guess they went to the dump between Town hill and Pine hill. I never saw them again.

 All these we figured were ‘free gifts.’ For the seller, it insured the customer would return to buy more, so it was worth a little extra cost or effort. They buried this ‘extra cost’ in the sales price. If we thought it through, we would discover (again) that there’s no ‘free lunch.’ Besides, the family budget sometimes didn’t allow for a new set of dishes, but a box of detergent was to be expected. In those days the housewife was stuck with a small, rigid budget. Premiums were a godsend and satisfied adult and child alike. I remember a family friend who didn’t collect but knew that I did. They would save me the labels or box-tops so I could earn a ‘free gift.’ My ‘Sky King’ wings were won almost instantly!

Another popular thing that crossed the line between ‘brands,’ but instead transferred our buying loyalties away from particular products to the stores and filling stations who serviced us. I’m talking about trading stamps that became a gigantic influence in how we bought nearly everything. While this program began in the 30’s, it didn’t get to our part of the woods until much later. When a small group of participating merchants started giving these out, they increased their sales and struck a blow to the competition. This forced other stores to jump in and issue trading stamps.

The customers had to collect pages of stamps and paste them into a book to redeem for prizes of all sorts. I recall that stamps were placed loosely into a box and later we’d come together as a family and do the ‘catch up’ pasting.

Honus WagnerHonus WagnerI think it was Raleigh tobacco that put stamps into every carton of cigarettes to be collected for redemption at a future time. Like a few folks, I saved those for a while, but I never tried to redeem them. I never seemed to have enough to get anything worthwhile. If the general population was like that, a very small percentage of the redeemable products were ever issued to the collector. The bottom line is that the stores bought into the program and may have increased their overall business, but the stamp companies rolled in profit.

Marketing is sometimes a slight-of-hand action more than providing a generous gift. It isn’t necessarily evil, but simply a way to increase sales while reducing overhead. The net effect should be a profit for the seller and a benefit for the consumer. In the end, all of these were marketing gimmicks. If it got my attention and I jumped to make a purchase, I reinforced their program.

I remember from my reading a long time ago that Ben Franklin told a story of bargaining for a whistle he wanted. His advice was to ‘never pay too much for your whistle.’ I try to remember that when trying to fulfill my needs or wishes. Back in the 30’s and 40’s they used to say in the movies that ‘everything has an angle.’ They were right.

Maybe there’s a reader or two that still uses those Jewel Tea plates, or other premiums left over from days gone by. Some of you may still have some unused stamps in the corner of an attic, or have a decoder ring. How interesting it would be to find some of those treasures long forgotten. Good luck.

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APRIL 25, 2018

POSSUM BIT...WON'T LET GO!

JOHN HENSLEY JOHN HENSLEY

By John Hensley


For the first 13 years of my life I lived on Big Creek in Pike County Ky. Dad owned three quarters of the hollow that we lived on. Our house was all the way back and up on a hill.

In those days most homes didn't have running water or electricity. We were lucky that we did have electric. We did not have running water. Mom would have my brothers to bring in water every night. They would put the water in a large round bathtub. She would heat the water on the pot belly stove. We kept a good supply of coal and wood to burn. Not only did she cook on it, but it was the only source of heat.

I can still remember the smell of the coffee and the sound it made while it was being made in the perculator.

We had a seam of coal on the property, Dad and my brothers would go mine the coal. I got to go sometimes, but was usually more in the way than a help.

We stayed in the hills and gardens for entertainment. My brothers hunted or fished all the time. My brother Dave, would trap animals in the winter for their fur. He would send the hides off and get his money back in the mail. He would use this for school clothes or whatever else was needed.

He also had traps that he could catch live animals in and release them unharmed. He was always catching baby animals and bringing them to me for pets. I would never know what he was bringing home next. I had pet squirrels and rabbits.

One day he brought home a baby possum. It was not the prettiest pet that I had seen but it was something.

Our house had a porch that was open underneath and the dogs usually slept there.

Mom had a set of barber clippers and would cut the neighbors hair if they wanted her to, Mr, Muncy came to get his hair cut. I was standing on this porch barefooted and shirtless holding the little possum against me on this day.

Possums do two things to protect themselves they will act dead, hence this is where the term 'play possum' comes from, or they will defend themselves.

The dogs, we had a pack of them, came out from under the porch barking intensely. The little possum that I was holding turned and bit me on the chest. You would have to picture this in your mind, a little barefoot shirtless boy running screaming through the house with the possum hanging on with just its teeth bouncing off my chest as I ran. I was no longer holding it.

Mom tried several things to get it to turn loose but to no avail. Finally she found a sewing needle and stuck it with that. The possum opened its mouth and fell off never to be seen again. I have a scar on my chest to this day...

 

MAW AND PAW HENSLEYMAW AND PAW HENSLEY

Hensley now lives across the line in Martin County.

###

April 8 at 11:40pm

Never go home again?

(BONUS STORY)

It is said that you can never go home again, well today I went back home. My mother and father were God fearing and loving people, so I was in church regularly growing up on Big Creek, in Pike Co. Ky. and there was three churches that I attended.

The '77 flood and the new road on 119 took out two of them.

The only one left is the Nolan Freewill Baptist. This church was established in the 1800's and has been rebuilt several times. The church has had the same pastor for around 60 years, Brother Ray Taylor. He has been a true family friend for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories, when I was around three, was of him coming to the house, sitting on the porch and visiting with the family.

He has a very distinctive voice and laugh. Brother Ray is one of the people that I have known that is always a pleasure to see. His message is about loving one another. He was having a community meeting today and wanted everyone to come. He sent word to me through two or three people about how much he would like to see me and my family. So I got up early and went to church.

One of my cousins, Lou Hensley sang a few songs. The church had almost 200 people in it with more coming later in the day. I saw cousins I hadn't seen in a few years and friends from days long ago. It was an uplifting and rewarding day for me. I got to hug Brother Ray, tell him that I loved him and how much he meant to my family and myself. I would have to say that a day like today was priceless...

 

April 21, 2018

Growing Up In Louisa  ...Wash day!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

 Several years ago I wrote about some of my early experiences relating to washing our clothes. I know you will remember the grade school song that echoed in the hallways and classrooms of that old brick school at the base of Town Hill. “This is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes...” Well the other day I sang that in hopes of getting some of my little grandchildren to join me in the little ditty. The problem was that they not only did not know the song, but I was moving my hands up and down as if it were on a washboard. You got it! These kids had no idea what I was doing. They’d never seen a washboard so it was totally foreign to them. It would be as bad as handing me a smartphone. The folks of my generation would know about those old implements, but very few that came after that ever saw anyone wash clothes that old-fashioned way.  When I thought about it, Washing clothes at creek Washing clothes at creek that method wasn’t far from beating wet garments on rocks on the side of the creek like in the movie “Old brother, where art thou.” By the time I was in grade school washboards were already slowly disappearing except for with country décor that displayed them to get that throwback ‘look.’

I remember when I was a young child that my mom would often set up a big galvanized washtub on the back porch. The tub was filled with hot, steamy and soapy water that had been heated on the kitchen stove and poured by bucketsful to use in the wash. I watched as she put her favorite wooden washboard down into the soapy water. I think it had a copper corrugated surface that she’d use to scrub the wet and soapy clothes up and down. I washboard washboard remember she had a second one that had a porcelain scrubbing surface, but for some reason I don’t think it was a favorite. All washboards I have seen have a place at the top to keep a bar of lye soap to be used to rub out stains or dirty areas. I remember with a bit of hurt that her hands were red from the hot water and all the abrasion from scrubbing the clothes up and down. Even in the winter this practice took its toll on her. I felt so sorry for her, but I continued to dirty up my clothing. It is what boys do, after all. This practice served as an example to teach me that all things in life do not come easily. Our moms did a lot of things for us for which I am grateful.

Some places we lived the laundry was done in the kitchen or in an outside laundry room instead or on the porch. I’m sure that was because the source of water was there. Those wash tubs and wringer washers had the propensity to get water everywhere. Dryers are a relatively new invention that many folks could neither afford to purchase or afford the electricity to run. It was a decade or two later when they finally came out.

ringer washer ringer washer  When we moved from the Louisa Inn to Granny’s house at 301 Clay Street, we soon had a brand, new ringer-washer. The tub was filled by a hose that was connected to the cold and hot water spigots. Once the water, soap, and clothes were added mom plugged in the electric cord in and moved the stick-handle that put it in gear. It was rather like shifting gears in a car.  Then the built in agitator began its work of swishing the clothes back and forth. I remember that the water darkened, or greyed, I assume because of the freed up dirt. Finally mom hooked the drain hose over the sink. A built-in pump sucked out all that dirty water into the hose so it could go down the drain. I remember seeing someone out in the county who didn’t have a sink, so they just allowed the water to run on the ground, outside. Because their house wasn’t plumbed, they had to fill the washers by bringing heated water from the kitchen range. Once a cycle was done, Mom had to wring out the water by putting the clothes through the attached wringer. It was a device that was swung into position over another washtub that was filled with some clean, but cold, rinse water. The laundry would fall into the rinse water, be swooshed around by hand and then wrung out again before they were put back through the ringer.  After that, mom would shake out the clothes and take the wet garments out back to hang on the line.

using ringer using ringer  I remember my Aunt once getting her hand stuck in the ringer. While she was screaming in pain, the rest of us ran around trying to figure out what to do. The machine pulled her whole hand in and started up her arm, but a safety feature finally popped the two roller-cylinders apart. She was badly bruised and sore for several days. I learned to respect machinery from that event. Oh, and I finally figured out that unplugging it might have helped…whoops!

As I grew taller I helped hang the clothes on the clothesline. I remember we had two kinds of wooden clothespins. One was a single piece of wood that looked like a little man with a head and long legs. I remember using them to make Christmas tree decorations back when our kids were young. The other kind was made with two pieces of wood and held together with a steel spring. This one could be opened to clamp the wet clothing on the clothesline. Both worked very well. Mom showed me how to overlap the various pieces of wet clothing so to minimize the number of pins needed and to save space on the clothes pin clothes pin clothesline. Some garments, like pants were hung by their cuffs, upside-down, so to dry better. Since the water would go to the lowest level, you could feel the waistband to see when they had dried enough to fold and bring in.

In the winter we’d still hang out the wash, but everything would soon freeze hard. I remember playing outside and running into some frozen pants once. They spun around on the line and hit me again from the backside. The clothespins kept them from falling. It stung my poor, cold ear so I made sure to avoid hitting them again. I seem to have a thing with clotheslines. One winter’s day my mom asked me to go out and bring in the wash. I looked up from reading my comic book and told her I was sure it was frozen solid. It made sense to me that if it was frozen then water was still present in the fabric so when the clothes warmed up they’d still be wet from the thawing ice. She brushed that off and made me go out anyway, so I did as instructed. I was right that it was stiff, but when it thawed to my amazement it was perfectly dry. I still don’t see the logic of how that works, because when ice melts it turns back into water, but not in this case. Where did it go? Freeze dried, I recon.

Would you believe that today, some neighborhoods will not even allow you to have a clothesline? These fancy homeowner’s associations have nothing to do but take away our freedoms. We must have this kind of roofing, a certain kind of siding, and this kind of windows! We cannot have junk out, can’t fly a flag, or park a vehicle with business markings on the street. They have their own Gestapo out every day looking for violations. I mean, whoever heard of not hanging out your clothes? Many newer homes have the laundry room near to the bedrooms instead of the kitchen or back porch. This allows laundry to be washed and dried near its point of use. Cuts down on having to carry baskets up and down stairs, I guess.

When I was growing up I don’t remember who put in the first laundromat in town, but I do remember the celebrations of opening day. Town officials were on hand as was nearly every lady in town. There were a few men, but that was a different time. The new laundromat was located near the tracks midway down Jefferson Street south of Pocahontas. I remember there had been a good bit of advertising posted around town on telephone poles, the windows of various businesses, and ads in the weekly newspaper. It was a new thing for our little town so folks had marked the day on their calendars and were getting excited. Each of the ladies and sometimes the bigger kids had big baskets of dirty laundry to test out the new equipment. They had been promised that this would save tons of work. Management had put up signs on the walls explaining all the ‘rules.’ To be fair with others, to reduce risks and liability you needed to know what customers could, or could not do.

 detergentdetergent As I remember the new cinder block building had a double row of washing machines that went down the middle of the room. The driers were lined against the outside walls. The building was painted a bright white inside and out, which made it look clean. I remember they had some tables that were meant to be used to fold the laundry once it came out of the drier. It seemed as if the owner had thought of everything. There were even dispensing machines to provide soap and bleach. I was told to stay away from that because bleach mishandled could ruin everything. I remembered a few of the commercials about detergents, but really that just didn’t seem that interesting to me.

There was a line of people waiting to use the machines, but they were patient to take their turn. They just used the spare time to visit and catch up on the local news (and gossip). I listened as the dimes and quarters clanked when they were dropped into the machines. In spite of having the machines that dispensed soap, many brought their own boxes of Tide, Oxiclean, Borax, or Fab Laundry Detergent. I was excited at the sight of the lids being lifted. Powdered soap was being spilled into the washers while the first group of customers were busy folding or bringing in another load.

Being a curious boy, I went outside and inspected the vents where air was coming out. It was hot, and humid, and contained small amounts of lint and fluff. Hmmmm. I supposed those cinder block walls would not ignite from the heat and the wind would likely carry away the lint. The operation passed my expert fire protection exam. My Great Aunt Shirley Chapman spent some money there over the next couple of days, but when the excitement wore off, she figured out that it took serious work to haul the dirty laundry over there, she’d have to wait to use the machines, and it would cost her money. Money in any denomination was scarce in those days. We went back to doing our laundry at home. I don’t know if that building is still in use, or if it’s still a laundromat. I guess I should have driven down that way when I was in town to see if it was still there.  I think that Andy York, at some time or another, maybe closed his store and changed it into a laundromat. I would have been good for the lower end of town if he did. I’m sure someone will remember that and remind me.

Washing machines have changed a lot over the years. Back then they were top loading, but the one I have now in my home is front loading. Newer ones have a number of settings and other features that are designed to handle different fabrics, and to even diagnose the problem if something is wrong. One of the joys for me was when they were spinning they would sometimes get out of balance and make a racket. I’ve seen them jump so badly I wondered if they might break through the floor or take out a wall.

While dryers are now very common, it wasn’t so in the 40’s and 50’s. The dryers today can ‘feel’ when the load is dry, but they have timers, too, and a few automatic settings. They send out signals like a microwave so you know it’s time to take the load out. They also keep the laundry wrinkle-free by tumbling it regularly for a spell, to give you time to get back and put the clothes on hangers, or in case you forgot you had a load working.

 Some of the major changes involve the newer fabrics as much as the washing machines. I remember when some things were good to wash, but others had to be dry cleaned or they would shrink. The way I was growing I didn’t need anything to shrink. Ironing was another step that the newer textiles have made unnecessary. I don’t miss that. I remember having to iron my suit for the prom with a flat-iron and a pair of pliers. We had lost the wooden handles, so the pliers made it possible to maneuver the flatiron. The electric iron wouldn’t work because we had a power outage just in time for the dance. Grrrrr!   

Today we consider an electric washer and dryer as complete necessities. We live lives that are far more hectic and faster-paced than our ancestors.  We tell ourselves that we just don’t have the time to hang out laundry and then later take it in. Maybe this kind of work was more rewarding than we realized. The quiet time while hanging out laundry gave us some fresh air, some vitamin D from the sunshine, gave us time to think, and also gave us a feeling of accomplishing something. We were blessed in many ways in those days, and blessed again as America made progress. We still had ironing to do until finally ‘wash and wear’ became the norm. Today we don’t starch, don’t iron, and barely deal with our dirty clothes. That may be fighting words to some who still spend a lot of time with the laundry, and young single folks who have to go to a laundromat. When I hear folks complain about having to wash our clothes, I think of mom’s red hands and her scrub board. Those who complain don’t know the half of it

My wife has a recipe for making your own powdered soap. She told me that wants to sell her two old washboards should you find that you want one. I think she feels threatened that I may want her to use them… As we sign off dear readers, sing with me now, “This is the way we wash our clothes…”

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