Coupons and Green Stamps

Photo by Anete Lusina on

As a young girl my grandparents often told me about items that were commonplace during their youth that had become outdated. Both of them had travelled from one place to another in horse drawn buggies. They had no refrigeration or electricity in their childhood homes and they relieved themselves in outhouses where they often used old Sears Roebuck catalogs for toilet paper. They enjoyed telling me about the old days and I was often stunned by the stories they told. 

My mother had her own set of tales about growing up in a world quite different from mine. She spoke of listening to music and programs on the radio and reminisced about going downtown to see a movie with a dime that covered the cost of the trip on the bus and the admission fee for the film. Movies were of course all black and white at least until The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind came along. As a teen Mama spent time working as a phone operator connecting people’s calls with cables that she had to insert into the correct holes to complete the process of communicating. It all sounded so quaint and it never occurred to me that I too would one day begin to recollect the things that I used as a child that had become all but extinct.  

I remember the first time I was in an antique store and I found artifacts from my youth being sold as though they were relics from an ancient time. Suddenly I began to feel my age if not physically at least psychologically. Somehow the time that had passed seemed so short and yet when I did the math I realized that some of the things I saw had to be sixty or seventy years old. 

We have progressed rapidly over time. We used to clip coupons from magazines and newspapers but now such things are rare to find. They have been replaced by barcodes on smartphones. Typewriters are playthings for toddlers often found in the offices of pediatricians. Who would even want to use them with word processing software that instantly corrects mistakes and aligns papers with precision? Our phones today are capable of providing more information that the computers used to send a man to the moon back in the nineteen seventies. Few people still have their VCR tapes of movies and even the later DVDs seem almost useless with instant streaming capabilities, but I still have mine. The old Blockbuster type stores where we spent Friday and Saturday nights choosing entertainment have gone the way of dinosaurs. 

I remember getting green stamps at the grocery store and sitting at the kitchen table with my mother using a sponge to paste them into little books. When we had enough of them we would eagerly look through a catalog of prizes for which we might redeem them. Some stores gave us certificates that we saved to claim dishes or pots and pans. Even gas stations provided ways to earn points reimbursable for all sorts of items. 

There was a time when stores and most everything else were closed on Sundays. Television went off the air at midnight. The news programs lasted little more than an hour each day. Women and girls had to wear hats and gloves in church. Most families had only one car and few of the homes were air conditioned before the end of the nineteen sixties. We ate lots of fried foods but rarely went out to eat. Vacations were mostly road trips to visit relatives with food for the journey packed at home. 

I have honestly lost track of the acceleration of technology. I vividly remember my husband bringing home a computer called the TRS 80 that was outrageously expensive considering how little it was able to do. I sent my eldest daughter to a computer camp when she was in the seventh grade and she was one of the only girls there. My spouse often drove me a bit crazy by insisting that we get the latest and greatest gadgets even if it meant sacrificing in other ways. He believed that we were on the cusp of changing the world as we had known it and he was absolutely right. 

I still love to hold a real book in my hands and print materials for online coursework. I have to be able to highlight and put notes in margins. I can’t even imagine taking a test online. I need the physical security of paper and pencil. I want my teachers to see my work and be able to determine whether I understand something but just made a small error. I feel for students who have to learn from videos and demonstrate their knowledge by picking multiple choice answers before the time has elapsed and it’s too late to even try. There are some advances that just don’t work for me and I suspect that they are not particularly popular with most people either. 

I laugh now as I think of some of the things we enjoyed that make me sound so old now. I like the popcorn that we made from kernels in an iron skillet but microwave popcorn is not bad. I remember slaving over a sink full of dirty dishes and having to wash, rinse and then dry them. There was the process washing and rolling our hair until it air dried which sometimes meant sleeping with the bristles of the curlers boring little holes into our scalps. Even worse was having to hang clothes on lines in the backyard and then take them down so wrinkled that we had to devote at least one day a week to standing over an ironing board. We did not walk to school five miles uphill in the snow both ways, but we often played outside in our bare feet with the water hose as our only source of hydration and we thought nothing of riding in the back seat of our cars while standing up with no seat belts. Those rides in the open space of someone’s pickup truck were so hairy that even we somehow knew that they were not especially safe.

I now see adults the age of my daughters discussing things that they owned and did that have become a memory of another time. I am grateful for advances that I would not want to do without but there are other aspects of my childhood and teen years that were actually somewhat fun. I still have many items that people would be hard pressed to identify. Some belonged to my grandparents and parents and some belonged to me. Progress continues with or without us. I like to think that I am modern enough to keep up with the times.