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Clyde, Time Was: Thing you ‘had to have’ could wind up in a yard sale

Time was, they gave us Green Stamps.

With every purchase came a reward. But you had to work for it, licking all those stamps, 24 pages, 1,200 points, neatly pasted in “books.” You could use a sponge to make it go faster, but when you took your books back to the basement at the Winn-Dixie at Innes and Fulton, you discovered the hard reality that you were just shy of enough to “git” what you wanted. The old proverbial carrot before the horse, we fell for it like watching “Queen for a Day” on TV. Buy more, save more, spend more.

Founded in 1896, S&H (Sperry and Hutchinson) must have been the single most successful gimmick in history. Where else could you give people your business and in turn get a free gift that you could pick out yourself? Pure genius.

Not even the Fuller Brush man or the Avon lady, who brought it to your door, could top QVC shopping and your new friend, Paypal.

It’s said that 80 percent of Americans collected Green Stamps, and the company said it distributed three times as many stamps as U.S. Postal Service.

Eighty percent of Americans don’t do anything today. They couldn’t agree.

Imagine what we could do with a united effort. Not since World War II, over a threat to our democracy, did we work together. Maybe 80 percent use toilet paper, but not the same kind. We do what feels good.

BOGO, door buster specials, half off, give-aways, free, bonus buy, free samples, going out “for” business, kids free, gift wrap, free parking, air conditioned comfort with a picture of a polar bear, anything to bring ’em in.

But nothing as personal as those little ol’ ladies handing out free samples with toothpicks in the first aisle at Food Town. Reminds you of your mother’s homemade, just for you.

Uncle Ralph, with his fast pennies, must be smiling. Some educated marketing expert got paid for that idea, thinking it would bring them in if you gave them a little taste, not to be confused with the hoochie-goochie shows in the back row at the county fair. Where did they go?

Then there were fads that made us crazy to buy: madras plaid that faded, Nehru jackets that looked dorky, anything Beetlemania, muscle cars with necking knobs, Twiggy dresses appropriately named, and the fashion trends that gave us zippers, gussets and stays, headbands, sock and hose garters, velvet bow ties, bell bottoms, what’s next?

Advertisements told you and salesmanship sold you. Whatever you wanted. The world was your oyster. Seldom a pearl was found.

Hippies were the end result — no worries or cares. Everything was free.

Lotteries used to be illegal — too much like gambling.

What you need and what you want are difficult to separate. What you can live without is easy. Don’t be left out. Get on the bandwagon. Buy now, before it’s too late.

You can get anything in the world delivered to your door without being touched by human hands, but there is something about seeing it and touching it that makes a satisfied customer. It’s more fun haggling, wheeling and dealing, or bundling with Frank and Mike from “American Pickers.”

Being a good customer is not easy. Informal, polite and appreciative. Tipping is not illegal. Shop early. Who cares if you have early birds at a yard sale if you are trying to sell it anyway?

Amazingly, all the stuff you “had to have” will end up in somebody else’s yard sale or consignment shop one day for people who don’t have our good taste. People make a good living off eBay. Somebody wants everything.

A school in Pennsylvania collected 2,500 books of Green Stamps to buy a mate for George the gorilla in the Pittsburgh Zoo. Alas, Ginger died. True story, thanks to an internet guru, not made up to sell papers.

Be careful what you work for. Caveat emptor. Nothing in life is free.

Clyde, who goes only by his first name, is a Salisbury artist.

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