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Retro Ramblings: Green Stamps and Oatmeal Cups

Unfortunately, when the site crashed last year, my articles on random retro things bit the dust, and I wasn't able to retrieve them. But have no fear, we'll just pick up where we left off then.

Raise your hand if you remember Green Stamps.  For those of you without telepathy, my hand is high in the air.  That’s because I certainly remember Green Stamps.  Now, for those of you who don’t remember them, or aren’t old enough to know about them, let me give a little summarization as to what they were.

I guess the easiest way to explain them would be to say that they were like bonus points you get when you use your credit card, or frequent flyer miles that you can rack up with the airlines, but for everyday things.  The most common place you would get them were at grocery stores.  How much you spent on your grocery shopping trip determined how many green stamps you earned.  

There was a little machine next to the register, and the cashier would dial up how many stamps you had earned and it would spit them out.  The actual green stamps themselves were about the size of a postage stamp, and worked in much the same way, as you had to lick the back of them to stick them in the green stamp books.

Now those books, once they were filled, could be used to buy all sorts of stuff from the Green Stamps Catalog.  It was usually the type of merchandise you would find at a Dollar General store, but they also carried some nicer items as well.  So for just doing what you normally would by doing your weekly grocery shopping, you earned some free shopping spree money!  These things were so popular, that the grocery stores used them as a way to bring in folks.  They would often run “double stamp day” promotions where you would earn double the amount of green stamps that you normally would.  This was a big deal in my house, and shopping day always lined up with double stamp day.

My Mom had a drawer in the kitchen set aside for just her green stamps.  Nothing else was allowed in there, and when it was emptied, we would start the slow process of filling it up with books once again.

Unless something really caught her eye in the catalog, she wouldn’t spend any of her stamps until Christmas each year.  She kept track of how many stamps she had, and would pour over the green stamp catalog looking for Christmas presents in much the same way us kids did with the Sears Wish Book.  She would make out her list, gather her stamps, and we would head off to the Green Stamp Store.

Did I forget to mention the Green Stamp Store?  I guess I did.  See, not only could you use your stamps to order from their catalog, but they also had full blown stores around the country too.  The closest one to us was an hour away, but we would make the trip once a year for her to use her stamps to buy some Christmas presents with.  It was usually the same trip where we went to the mall for Christmas.  Yes, when I was growing up, I only got to go to the mall once a year.  We’d also stop by a few other places I only saw once a year.  If you’re interested in what that whole trip looked like, you can check out my article, How I Remember Christmas, as I detail the whole trip there.

But anyway, we would load up and head off to the Green Stamp store with all of her stamps in tow.  I had somewhat of a vested interest in this whole process because I am the one she entrusted the responsibility to get all the stamps into the books.  Which meant that after each trip to the store, I would lick the backs of all the stamps we had gotten and paste them into their books.

The gifts she used these things on were usually for those people on the fringe of your gift giving list.  Like at the family Christmas party, we didn’t give gifts to everyone there, jut the person whose name you had ended up drawing a month before.  So with two family parties, and 4 names drawn for each, she would look hard to find eight suitable gifts that could be bought with her stamps.  It was frugal, but it was a good way to get folks a gift, but still not crush the budget by spending cash on them.

For whatever reason, Green Stamps started losing steam and popularity in the 80’s.  I can’t recall exactly when we stopped getting them, but I know we were still getting and using them as late as 1988.  It’s not a concept that would work in our world today, but man, it sure is fun to think back on them now.

So here is another from the “do you remember?” category….plastic cups that came in boxes of oatmeal.  For years upon years, I never knew this was a thing.  Mainly because I was never around when my Mom opened the new boxes of oatmeal, and also probably because we didn’t buy the brands of oatmeal that was still doing this in the 80’s.

But even though I was totally unaware of this being a thing, I knew all about the cups, and they were favorites of mine.  How is this possible you may be asking, but sit tight and I’ll tell you how I could be at both ends of the spectrum at the same time.

My grandmother on my Mom’s side had a lot of grandkids.  18 of us to be exact, and more times than not, there would be at least 5 or 6 at her house at any given time.  As kids do, one would get thirsty, and so that meant all of us were thirsty, because Lord forbid if one of us was getting something the others weren’t.  So off the kitchen we would go, and we all knew which glasses were for us grandkids to use.  The plastic tumblers in shades of blue, green, yellow, pink, and clear.

I loved those little tumblers.  The design on the sides were simply little etch blocks, with each row slighty off set from the rows above and below it.  To me they looked like little trees.  As a matter of fact, we called them tree cups.  Maybe I started that trend among my cousins, I don’t know.

But anyway, Granny always had a lot of these tumblers around.  Partly, I believe, because she had a lot of grandkids, and partly because my Granddad ate a lot of oatmeal.  It’s the only thing I ever recall hearing of him eating for breakfast.  Ever.  Biscuits and gravy?  Nope.  Bacon and eggs?  Nada.  Just oatmeal.  So when a man eats oatmeal 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, that means you have to buy a lot of the stuff.

That “stuff” that my grandmother bought was Crystal Wedding Oats.  Why they’re called that I have no idea, but it’s not important at the moment.  What IS important, is that every box of this oatmeal came with one of those little tumblers packed the oatmeal.  You never knew what color you were getting, so completing some kind of set could be hard if you didn’t buy much of the stuff, but that wasn’t a problem for my Grandmother.  She could have had sets of 16 in every color if it weren’t for us kids losing them.

So I went years without knowing where those tumblers even came from.  A few years ago, one of my cousins and I were reminiscing about old days at my grandmother’s, and I brought up those little cups, and how fondly I remembered them.  Somehow I came around to asking something like, “I wonder where she got all those?”, and he proceeded to fill me in on the oatmeal box story.  I was kind of blown away actually.  Somehow I had went my whole life and never heard of such a thing.  Then I went on to find out that some of the dishes I had eaten off of most of my childhood probably came out of boxes of powdered dish detergent, but that’s a story for another day.

So not long after the conversation with my cousin, I was talking to a friend and related the story to him.  He knew that those tumblers came in boxes of oatmeal too, and said that his grandmother kept them out for all of her grandkids as well.  He also said that the STILL drank out of those things when he went to her house!  I kind of forgot about our conversation after that, but when I saw him a week or so later, he brought me a couple of those very same tumblers from her house!  He had related my tale to her, and she got such a kick out of it, she gave him a couple of them to bring to me, which I now proudly display in a place of honor in my own personal retro museum.  

So that’s how I could be totally unaware, and yet totally aware of their existence at the same time.  What about you?  Did you know these were a thing?

Well, that's it for this time. When some random junk from back in the day pops into my head again, I'll be back with more.

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Feb 13, 2018 at 10:45 PM

Something tells me that if the Green Stamp store existed in my neck of the woods, I would have been encouraging my parents to "pay with plastic" more often.

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