In My Own Shoes: Getting my licks in with S&H Green Stamps

In My Own Shoes: Getting my licks in with S&H Green Stamps

The Westerly Sun

I hate to ever go out of the house without makeup.

Yet I tell myself, “I’m only going to the supermarket for two things. I’m in and out. I won’t see anyone I know.”

And voilà, I always do. Just a week or so ago I was steering my wagon around the corner of an aisle, hell-bent on just getting potato chips, when a cute little redhead piped up, “Oh, I just love your column!”

I muttered my thanks, cursing myself for the pale face, pale eyebrows, hair stuffed into an elastic sitting unceremoniously on top of my head, and vowing I wouldn’t do it again.

So a couple of days after when I needed something and ran out, I made sure I had makeup, clean clothes, and nicely arranged hair. The woman behind me in the checkout lane looked at me and said, “You look like you’re old enough to remember. Remember Green Stamps?”

OK, so I’m no spring chicken, but I do remember them. That’s when supermarkets, department stores, and gas stations paid you to shop at their establishment … the first loyalty programs. Today we get gas points, which knocks a few cents off the already ridiculously overtaxed petrol in this state. Big deal.

Actually Green Stamps go a lot farther back than I do. Popular from the 1930s until the late 1980s, the stamps were introduced by the Sperry and Hutchinson Company, whose rewards catalog bragged it was the largest publication in the United States. The company said it issued three times as many stamps as the U.S. Postal Service.

My dear mother bought right into it all. She shopped every store that gave Green Stamps, bringing them home to be licked and affixed to the S&H Green Stamp  collectors’ books. And guess whom she recruited to do the licking? I hated those things, the sheets seemed endless, the taste was awful. Why we didn’t get smart and use a sponge is beyond me, but it wasn’t for me to ask. I just kept licking, and my mother just kept stockpiling the books, bribing me with the reward that “when we have enough, we’ll go to the Green Stamp store.” I was never sure what “enough” was, but when my mother proclaimed it, off we went to the Green Stamp Store, that wondrous place of appliances, toys, furniture, and rows and rows of brand new gleaming stuff that people thought they needed. The Green Stamp Store was actually akin to one of those game arcades at the beach. You spend a fortune playing skeeball, throwing darts, or executing some other game of skill, carefully amassing piles and piles of prize tickets. Then when you go to redeem them, you get a Spiderman toothbrush for 525 tickets or perhaps a cheesy lamp for 2,500 tickets. Well, the Green Stamp Store played the same game. I can’t remember any of the “stuff” my mother got “for free,” but I do remember her handing me a big pile of filled books, telling me they were mine to spend for helping with all that licking.

I looked and looked throughout the store, scouring each shelf, but anything that even looked halfway appealing was way beyond my pathetic little stash. So I settled for a basketball. I didn’t play basketball, I wasn’t more than 4½ feet tall, and we didn’t have a basketball hoop in our driveway, but I got it nevertheless. It bounced, it was a prize I earned for all my licking, and it gave me that sense of, “Gotta get more stamps. Gotta lick ’em. Gotta get something bigger next time.”

Aha! Just what the S&H people envisioned when they pitched their idea to the retail world, and just what the retail world hoped would happen. So I kept licking till I went away to college and Green Stamps lost their cachet.

As for that cute redhead who saw me on that makeup-less Sunday, forgive me, but after more than 50 years of foundation, powder, eye shadow, blush, mascara, and theatrical makeup when I perform, I like to give my wrinkles a rest now and then. And as for the woman at the checkout who just knew I was “old enough to remember,” thank God I do. Thank God I have a mind that still fires on all cylinders and thank God I still have memories upon which I can still reflect.

There! Got my licks in.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at or 401-539-7762.


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