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Yellow string, green stamps

One of the benefits of Dad working at Marshall Field’s, the upscale department store based in Chicago, was the string.
It was used by the package delivery drivers, my father’s job for 50 years, to secure items returned by customers. Field’s had a very liberal, no-questions-asked return policy, and would even send a deliveryman out to pick up the package, tie it with string if needed, and return it to the store.
To shop at Field’s you had to have more money than most. Quality was high and service exceptional but you paid for it at the cash register. Because Dad worked there, we had an employee discount, yet Mom rarely bought anything, it was just too expensive even with 15 percent off.
I thought we should buy everything at Field’s and then just return it when it was no longer needed or worn out. Dad often told stories about people returning tattered shoes, thread-bare dresses and even half-eaten food items. If rich people did it then why couldn’t we? Apparently, I didn’t inherit the good character gene from my parents.
Instead, Mom shopped the less pricey stores like Wieboldt’s.
Besides lower costs, Wieboldt’s also issued S&H Green Stamps, which were given out with every purchase. Does anyone remember the stamps? They were issued just about everywhere back in the 1960s– department stores, gas stations, grocery stores– and Mom dutifully collected them. Her last words to Dad as he headed out the door to pick up milk or some other item were always, “and don’t forget the Green Stamps.”
I think you got one stamp for every quarter spent, or maybe it was one for every penny. Either way, Mom always had a drawer full of them along with the booklets they had to be pasted into before redeeming for valuable merchandise offered in the Green Stamps Catalog. If you made the mistake of saying “I’m bored” in Mom’s earshot, you might wind up spending the afternoon licking stamps and pasting them into the booklets. She’d save up a bazillion of them, dutifully pasted onto pages warped by spittle and then turn them in for say, a set of glasses.
If company came and the guest happened to asked for something to the drink, it would be offered proudly in the new tumblers. “How do you like the glasses?” she’d ask, and then boast, “I got them with Green Stamps.” Nothing our family liked better than a bargain and the glass would be the main topic of conversation for the evening. I think you could save up to buy more expensive items, a toaster say, but then you’d have to rent a truck to turn in the booklets.
Wieboldt’s also had a lay-away department. It was an age before credit cards. Shoppers picked something out that they wanted but couldn’t pay for that minute. Instead, they’d take it to the lay-away window and pay a portion of the bill. Then you’d return and pay a little more until it was paid for and you could take it home. Mom would make the rounds the first of every month, putting a dollar down on new shoes or a winter coat at the various stores that offered the service. It was very inefficient compared to today’s modus operandi of getting several credit cards and maxing them out.
But I digress, this was supposed to be about the string.
Did I mention that it was yellow? It was all part of the glamour of shopping at Field’s, even the string was special.
Because it was his job, Dad was a master at tying boxes. Two quick wraps around the middle, a special knot that held tight, two wraps around the length, another knot and viola, a neatly tied package. As a final flourish, Dad had a way of making a sort of cat’s cradle of the string in his hand, which allowed him to cut it without a knife or scissors.
He showed me the technique and to this day I can still perform the complicated maneuver, but it has to be yellow string. You’d think muscle memory is color blind, but it’s not for me.