Monday, November 25, 2013

"That's The Way I Remember It"

As I'm getting older (as we all are) I'm finding that my memory of past events is not as clear as it once was.  I used to be able to remember conversations verbatim, I'd remember an entire event from start to finish, I'd remember family stories and history pretty least I think I did!  The sad truth is that I can't do that anymore.  I'm not concerned that it is senility or dementia creeping up, I just think my mind is too full of "stuff" gathered over a lifetime!

My memories have always been important to me.  I suppose that's true of a lot of people, but I have always been aware that my past can explain who I am today.  I've always understood that some events are life-altering while others are trivial, mundane, and pretty much dull as dishwater!  But you never know when a memory will pop out of your psyche and serve to clarify or help you understand something that is happening in your life in the present.

For instance.....

As you probably know, I grew up in a couple of small towns in Florida.  They were both slow-paced, quiet little towns that were pretty typical of their time.  There weren't any "big" stores in either town, the biggest stores in town were grocery stores.  Of course, the "big" chains didn't exist back then.  No Targets, no K-Marts, no Wal-Marts, and no enormous shopping malls either.  Cities, both large and small, had a "downtown" where most of the commerce and retail businesses were located.  There might have been a "Dime Store" like Woolworths or McCory's but not in the towns where I lived.  What we had were family-owned drug stores, an independent department store, a dress shop or two, a couple of shoe stores, a stationer's, a kids' store carrying everything from clothes to toys to schools supplies for the infant to teenage set.  There might have been a restaurant or two, a post office, insurance companies, banks, and a movie theater.  It met our needs and we had no real complaints.

There were several bigger towns within a drive of only an hour or two.  We and most everyone we knew would make regular but not all that frequent visits to one of those towns (like West Palm Beach, or Tampa, or Orlando) a couple of times a year.  We'd make those trips for back to school, Christmas and other holiday shopping. summertime shopping, and any special occasion that required something new to wear, or a nice gift, or something specific like sports equipment or furniture.

There were catalog stores for the in-between kinds of things and we all used Sears, or "Monkey Wards", or Spiegel's.  The "dream books" came out twice a year plus a special one for Christmas, and for families such as mine (above the poverty line, but nowhere near wealthy!)  Those catalogs did, in fact, allow us to dream.  But everything purchased through the catalog certainly fit into the category of delayed gratification.  You would place your order (by mail!) and wait (and wait and wait, at least it seemed like that to a young girl waiting for her new school clothes!) and finally the package from Sears (or whomever) would arrive....always with some successes and a couple of failures (it didn't fit, the color was awful, the shoes were ugly, etc., etc.).  The returns or exchanges (also all done by mail) were difficult and annoying but there was no other choice.  The catalogs provided access to all sorts of things that were affordable (of huge importance) and that you couldn't find in small towns like mine.

For the day to day things, though, you accepted the lack of variety, limited items, and higher prices and shopped locally.  At least you did when you could!  For one of the other aspects of life in the South in those days (prior to about 1965), was that the stores that you did have in your small town were not open all the time!  Most retail establishments were open Monday through Friday (or Saturday), usually from about 8 until 5.  In addition, they closed on Wednesday afternoons and sometimes Saturday afternoons.  Nothing was open on Sunday except a few restaurants, a gas station or two, and all the churches!  I imagine that one could find bread or milk or a few such items in a gas station, I really don't remember for sure, but for the most part the limited hours were universal.  As I recall the drug stores had posted phone numbers in case of a pharmacy emergency, but I don't think we ever had one.  Still, it was available for those who did.  And NOTHING much was open on a holiday....even the "lesser" holidays like Labor Day or Memorial Day.

This situation meant that you had to plan ahead!  You had to make sure that your trips to the grocery store were complete.  If you needed something for Sunday night, you had darn well better get it by Saturday or you wouldn't get it at all!  I think it was those kinds of situations that led to the stereotypical "borrowing a cup of sugar" that we all did from time to time.

"That's the Way I Remember It" and it worked just fine!

About a year or so before I moved from Florida back to Chicago (where there were VERY different retail practices),  A few of the retail establishments in the small town where we were living began to stay open until 8:00 pm on Thursday evenings!  Oh my word, that was an amazing concession to the fact that not every one had free time during daylight hours to accomplish their shopping.  Those extra three hours felt like such a gift!  I truly believe that this change came about for the convenience of their customers, NOT for the profit or benefit of the store's coffers!  Nevertheless, it was the beginning of the end.

Before long stores began staying open every evening, even Saturdays; and then open a few hours on Sundays....SUNDAYS!  Then all day on Sundays.  Then REALLY late before Christmas (shopping at midnight?  Yep, I guess so!)  And then there were stores that began staying open 24 hours a day (the big box stores mainly, but not exclusively!)  Then most stores staying open, at least for a while, on the lesser holidays and soon we arrived at where we are today....there are generally only two days a year where the majority of stores are still closed -- Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Everything was Closed for the Holiday!

And now Wal-Mart is causing a flap by deciding to open their stores on Thanksgiving Day. The reality is that this has been coming for a loooong time.  The reality is that there atr  people who will go to shop there on Thanksgiving.  The reality is that eventually even Christmas will become a "shopping day".  The reality is that some people don't celebrate those holidays and to them they are just another day.  The reality is that Wal-Mart will stay open no matter how much of an outcry there is because the reality is that as long as people are willing to go there and spend money, more and more retailers will put aside their "principles" and open their doors to capture every penny that their customers are willing to spend.  The reality is that the 1950s are long gone and the world never goes into reverse.

And as for the employees of those retailers who have to work on those holidays, well, that's a shame but ministers and doctors and wait staffs and the police and firefighters and pilots and bus drivers and thousands of others have been doing it for YEARS!

The final reality is that if you don't approve of stores being open on Thanksgiving (or eventually Christmas), don't go there!   Spend your money another day!  It's really up to us, you know....


  1. Mel, were we raised in the same town?? At least in the same era! Yes! Our town has 3 drug stores, all owned by the same family, but run by brothers who were all pharmacists. The one on the main street of town opened on Sundays from 3 to 5 pm. Otherwise, if you wanted or needed anything else, even gas, you'd better be getting it on Saturday.
    Were those the "good old days?" I am still asking that question of myself. Sure, I like being able to run out to Dollar Tree on Sunday afternoon if I feel like it, or being able to go to the store for bread, milk or what-have-you, but I could live just fine if I planned ahead, or had to wait until tomorrow. I don't think I would starve or do without necessities.
    Life then was just more laid back and it was an easier time. Or maybe we just thought so because we were kids. Who knows what Mom and Dad really thought about it. I never thought to ask, or even cared way back then. I just went outside to all types of weather.

  2. I think it is ironic that people will leave their loved ones on Thanksgiving to go shopping for gifts for those same people who they left at home on a day that is celebrated to bring family together. Stuff eventually gets thrown in the garbage and time can never be retrieved.

    Memories last longer - maybe not forever- but longer than most phones.


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