Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Green stamps

Remember these?

Yep. S&H Green Stamps. My cousin recently posted a comment about them on Facebook, asking if anyone was old enough to know what these were.

Most people answered yes, they did. Because their grandmother collected them. That made me feel really old, until I learned they were actually in use until the late 1980s.

Sperry & Hutchinson (thus, the S&H) began offering stamps to U.S. retailers in 1896. The retailers, such as grocery stores and gas stations, bought the stamps from S&H and gave them as bonuses to shoppers based on the dollar amount of a purchase.

The stamps were perforated and after collecting several pages, we then moistened them (usually by licking - ugh! They could have made them taste better) and mounted them in collectors books, which were provided free by merchants. The books contained 24 pages and to fill a page required 50 points, so each book contained 1200 points.

The books could then be exchanged for gifts from the local Green Stamps redemption store.

My mother once gave me the twenty cents for a round trip fare and sent me downtown St. Paul on the Grand-East 3rd Street bus line to redeem several books of stamps for a surprise birthday gift for my father. It was a black, goose-necked desk lamp for his home office.

I thought nothing of it at the time, but now I realize how important it often was for a housewife to collect green stamps.  This enabled my mother to get a gift for Dad, not only without him knowing about it, but because money was tight and the stamps were received with her grocery purchases.

There's nothing better than the feeling of getting something in the way of a bonus. Kind of a reward, a sense of satisfaction of sorts, a frugal feeling.

I definitely think they should bring them back.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Handkerchief shower

We have several weddings occurring this summer and fall.
Four, to be exact, from May to October.

All are exciting and joyous occasions for families and friends to be together to celebrate the beginning of a couple's life together. We are honored to be included.

Since many of the couples have been on their own for several years and have even already purchased their own homes, it is a puzzle sometimes to think of gift ideas.

But, of course, they have solved that problem for you by registering at various department stores. All you have to do is check a store computer, print out their list, and get one of the items they have already selected, which includes everything from dishes and towels to hammers and grill tools. I can't help but think it takes some of the surprise element away, even it it is practical.

I tend to ignore these lists and get the couple something I would want for myself, or wish for as a gift for my home. Something they may not even have thought of, or something special that they wouldn't buy themselves. A lovely piece of porcelain, perhaps, or a set of cordial glasses. Maybe a relish dish and fork, something along that order.

Along with weddings come the bridal showers that precede the big event. Again, you refer to the department store computer registers. Which, as I said, I tend to ignore.

I learned something about showers held in my grandmother's day. While going through her bundles of cards and letters, tied together neatly with string, or kept in organized fashion in variety store paper bags, I came across the following invitation:

A handkerchief shower?  Really?

But, of course, in Grandma's day, women were never without handkerchiefs. From formal, hand-embroidered designs to crocheted edges to everyday stamped patterns, they wore them in their apron and dress pockets, carried them in their purses, or clutched them in their hand.

Always, always, a handkerchief. Precisely pressed, creased corners, perhaps even starched. Lace borders for special occasions, dime-store variety for everyday.

And so I can see where a handkerchief shower would be most valuable. After all, a woman would go through many of them from one washday to the next.

To me, the special part about it would be using the handkerchiefs knowing who they came from, that it was selected with care just for me, and wondering just which handkerchief I would carry today.

I, for one, would love to see this custom come back. How quaint and how special.

Think about it. Haven't we really lost something going through a department store with a computer list to see what isn't checked off? I think so.

Or perhaps I was just born in the wrong time.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Traveling to Denmark

I have been enjoying reading several of my mother's wonderful and well-written travel journals she kept from her trips to Scandinavia. The journals begin with her very first visit in 1973.

She was an excellent writer and included so many interesting details, noting what things were called, how they compared to things in the U.S., what was served at each meal, how it was presented, and so on. 

Many years of diligent research preceded her first trip. Knowing her father was from Denmark and her mother from Sweden, she had a few childhood photos of her Danish cousins and only knew they existed. She knew a few of their first names, and that's about it.  Her parents both died at early ages, before my mother herself could ask or even remember what she was told about her family.

She located a cousin, Anna Bunde-Pedersen, and they began corresponding. Anna made a list of family members for her, told her a bit about each one, and then invited her to visit.

So again, she researched, spreading out maps to pinpoint where they lived, enlisted the help of a travel agent, and with a mixture of excitement and a little trepidation, she set out to spend the month of August 1973 abroad, visiting Denmark, Norway and Sweden, meeting her family for the very first time. But first, she enrolled in a community college to learn the language, knowing all wouldn't speak English. My mother was 50 years old at the time.

My mother in the middle, cousin Anna on her right

She writes in her journals of meeting them all at a large and elegant dinner party held in her honor at a restaurant the first evening she was there. They were warm, welcoming and delightful people, telling her many stories of her father and their family there through the years. In the ensuing weeks, she spent several days with various cousins, in cities and on farms, gaining new perspectives of her heritage and family surroundings.

She then went on to Norway to see her young friend, Mona, who had taught her Hardanger embroidery here in the U.S. Mona had lived in Minnesota for a time, and had returned to Norway, her homeland. The two had become good friends.

Mom spent the last week of her trip by taking a ship from Norway to Sweden to visit the birthplace of her mother, although there were no family members living there any longer.

My mother traveled back to Scandinavia five more times before she asked me to go along in 1994. By then, several aunts, uncles and two of her cousins were no longer living. She wanted me to experience the joy she had being there among them, and at 71, she didn't want to travel alone.

It was a trip that changed my life. It broadened my horizons, as they say. I met the family she so cherished, visited the birth homes of my grandparents, saw the graves and churches of my great- and even great-great  grandparents, experienced the beauty of the Scandinavian countries, and learned new customs.

In winter 1996, we went again, this time more as tourists, seeing the Royal Copenhagen porcelain factory, Isak Dinesen's home where she wrote Out of Africa, and so much more. My mother's cousin, Greta, even re-created a typical Danish Christmas Eve feast for us.

In 1998, we went again, this time with my daughter, Kristie. Now another generation has established relationships with a family so far across the sea that were so special to my mother and to me.

So, in my mind, one of the richest legacies my mother left me was her persistence in discovering and establishing the connection between our families, here in the U.S. and abroad. Any time I want to travel along with her again, all I need to do is open her journals and I'm right there.

Our Scandinavian heritage. I appreciate and value it more and more every day.