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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Before the Internet, Boomers Had Mail-Order Catalog Showrooms

A hundred years before the Internet appeared, mail order businesses were thriving thanks to the latest technology: railroads. By the beginning of the Golden Age of Railroads in the 1870s, entrepreneurs were taking full advantage of shipping by rail, among them mail order businesses that boomers knew in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Cities were growing along with industry, and along with them, department and other retail stores appeared to serve city families. After the Civil War, sixty-five percent of the people in the country were farmers who could not easily get to a city that was large enough to support a strong retail presence in order to shop, so mail order businesses helped them take part in the growing consumer market by bringing the goods to them via the Post Office and shipping by rail. Chief among these soon-to-be retail giants were Montgomery Ward; Sears, Roebuck and Company; and J.C. Penney.

Montgomery Ward
Aaron Montgomery Ward started his mail order business in Illinois in 1872 with 100 items listed on a “catalog” sheet. He wrote the descriptions of the items himself. His business was an instant success. In less than ten years, his company was the number one mail order house in the nation. By 1883, his catalog had grown to 240 pages featuring more than 10,000 items. His thriving business needed warehouse space and a distribution center, which he built in Chicago. From there he could reach all parts of the country.

Due to pressure from city dwellers and new competitors — such as Richard Sears — Ward began opening retail stores and catalog showrooms in major cities, never abandoning the mail order business that made him famous. The company continued to do so until the 1950s. When boomer families moved into newly expanding suburbs, the company thought it too expensive to invest in the malls that were beginning to crop up, signaling the beginning of the decline of the entire operation, including the mail order business.

Montgomery Ward ended their mail order business in 1995, and closed all its retail operations in 2001. However, they still operate via the Internet.

Sears, Roebuck and Company
Richard Warren Sears was a railroad station agent in Minnesota when he got the idea to sell watches and jewelry via mail order, directly in competition with Montgomery Ward. He began operations in Minneapolis in 1886 under the name of R.W. Sears Watch Company. One year later he moved to Chicago and advertised for a business partner. Alvah Curtis Roebuck answered his ad and the company became Sears, Roebuck and Company in 1893. The two expanded their inventory to serve the needs of farmers and their families, including furniture, millinery, stoves, baby carriages, glassware, saddles, firearms, saddles, bicycles and jewelry. From 1908 to 1940, Sears sold entire houses through their mail order catalog. The complete house arrived as labelled parts in a kit at the buyer’s site, ready to assemble. In those three decades, it is estimated that Sears sold more than 70,000 house kits.

The first retail Sears store opened in 1925, within the Sears warehouse distribution center in Chicago. Sears opened stores across the country while maintaining its catalog business leading into World War II. After the War, unlike Montgomery Ward, Sears expanded into the suburbs in the 1950s and ’60s, becoming the main anchor store for many malls, which led to the company’s current predicament.

Sears struggles to survive today as stronger competitors such as Walmart and Bed, Bath & Beyond offer the same or similar items for less, to say nothing of Amazon online.

J.C. Penney
James Cash Penney went the opposite route taken by Ward and Sears, and established his retail store before his mail order business. The first store opened in 1902 in Wyoming, and his first mail order catalog followed shortly thereafter. By the 1920s, Penney stores expanded nationwide. When Penney died in 1971, his retail empire was the second largest in the country, behind only Sears.

Mister Boomer Recalls the Catalogs
For the most part, Mister Boomer’s family shopped in stores rather than through catalogs. There were actual Montgomery Ward, Sears and Penney stores near his location, and each had a section within the store where the catalog was available for ordering. Nonetheless, there was a Penney’s catalog showroom in Mister Boomer’s town. He recalls going the to the J.C. Penney catalog store, a small storefront on the city’s main street, with his mother in the late 1950s. Inside were platforms holding the J.C. Penney catalogs, situated at a height for the consumer to stand and thumb through the pages. Mister B remembers his mother looking for drapes, but does not recall if she ordered any.

Mister Boomer remembers his family having Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs at home. In a move that is the opposite of what some families do today, his father and brother might search through the catalogs for tools or auto accessories, but then went to the store to make the purchase rather than mail away for it. Affordable gas and cars, and the proliferation of malls leading up to the 1970s meant less reason for mail order businesses in the suburbs.

Mister Boomer has another theory as to why these retailers struggled after the Baby Boom and into the ’90s: their lack of coolness in the ’60s. Boomers were beginning to develop a look all their own, and these stores were very late in adopting new styles. Mister Boomer recalls never wanting to go to “Monkey Wards,” as boomers called it, for back-to-school clothes. Likewise Sears and Penny’s were not the places for fashion. It was all Mister Boomer and his siblings could do to accept socks and underwear for Christmas, knowing that their parents had purchased them from these establishments. All three stores were looked down on by many boomers that Mister B knew, as stores where their parents and grandparents shopped. Stores like The Gap were opening in malls, and they catered to the New Generation.

Did your family shop the “Big Three” mail order catalogs by the book or in catalog showrooms, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have No Comments

Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now

In the age before the shopping mall, drug stores were locally owned and served as general stores for a variety of family needs. See if you recall your family in these Mister Boomer experiences:

Prescriptions
Then: Your doctor wrote a prescription on paper and you brought it to your neighborhood pharmacist. Mister B does recall some instances when the doctor phoned the pharmacy when his mother was ill, then he would ride his bike to the drug store and pick up her prescription. His father could always pay for it later. It was a time before the proliferation of credit cards, so, like a lot of stores, the drug store maintained a book of what people owed if they couldn’t pay at that moment.

Now: Prescriptions are still filled at neighborhood pharmacies — but chances are, these days the store is part of a national chain. Pharmacists are still licensed and can give advice on medications, the same as in early days. When we were young, though, the pharmacist probably knew the names of everyone in the family. Home centers, warehouse stores and super stores also have internal pharmacies. For ongoing prescriptions, savings can be gained by ordering in bulk from online pharmacies that ship the prescriptions directly to your home.

Then and Now: When we were young, a man had to ask the pharmacist for condoms since they were kept behind the prescription counter. It was an Urban Rite of Passage for every boy over the age of 16 to carry a condom “at the ready” in his wallet. Many a boomer boy will tell of the embarrassment they felt asking the pharmacist, especially when the man knew his family. Some rebels who had a devil-may-care attitude toward the exchange would dole out extras to his neighborhood chums or school pals, which is how most boomer boys got their wallet condom. It didn’t matter that 99 percent of them would never be used for their intended purpose.
Today, condoms are openly displayed and readily accessible in drug stores, and the variety has expanded well beyond what was hidden under the counter fifty years ago.

Also, most drug stores have expanded their services to include wellness clinic, and flu shots administered by trained medical practitioners.

Cards
Then: Mister Boomer recalls many times when the family was heading out the door to a wedding when his mother asked his father, “Did you buy a card?” Inevitably, his answer was, “No.” Mister B’s dad would drive over to the drug store. While the family stayed in the car, he’d run in for a card. The store’s cards were kept just inside the parking lot entry. Two minutes later he would return with a wedding card. The drug store had all the cards the family would need in the course of a year, from birthdays to Valentine’s Day; weddings to anniversaries; get well to sympathies.

Now: Most drug stores maintain a card area, though the stock has changed due to Internet competition. Less cards are being purchased, so much of the inventory is devoted to cards that play music, specialty shapes and papers — in other words, cards for which they can charge a premium.

Photo Processing
Then: Many boomers recall going to the drug store with their parents to drop off film for developing. A week to ten days later, you could return and get your prints and the negatives.

Now: Some drug stores have eliminated their photo processing departments, while others have greatly reduced the visibility of the services. Prints can still be ordered from some drug store/pharmacies, but now in many cases they can be ordered online and picked up in any location across the country.

Sundries
Then: In an age before large discount stores and malls, the local drug store was the closest thing to a general store in most neighborhoods. A family could pick up everyday necessities, such as toilet paper and toothpaste, but also seasonal needs like spring picnic supplies, summer beach necessities and winter snow and ice needs. For Mister Boomer, his drug store was his number one connection for car, boat and plane model kits and the Testor’s paints and glue he needed to complete the projects. All of Mister B’s monster models — Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman and Phantom of the Opera — came from his drug store. So did his model of PT 109, the patrol boat Lt. John F. Kennedy captained in World War II.

Now: You can still get a wide variety of items at drug stores, from needles and threads to car accessories, seasonal needs to snacks and cold drinks. It’s been a while since Mister Boomer has noticed model car and plane kits at his area drug stores, but he likes to think there are still drug stores out there that stock them for the youngsters interested in building the kits.

TV Tube Testing
Then: In an age when every father was expected to fix things around the house, TV tube replacement was among the easiest since it was tantamount to replacing a light bulb. Mister Boomer remembers his father opening the back of their black & white TV and pulling one to three tubes of varying sizes. A quick trip the drug store was all that was needed to test the tubes and buy replacements. Mister Boomer remembers the drug store’s test station that sat near the center of the store. The angled wooden top had a series of multiple-hole slots, each numbered to match a specific tube. By plugging the tube into the appropriate slot and flipping the on switch, a customer could test to see if his TV tube was still good. Replacements were found in drawers below the top.

Now: TVs with vacuum tubes were still being manufactured in the early 1990s, but have now disappeared as electronic inventions have replaced the need for them. Consequently, drug stores no longer have a need for TV tube test stations.

Soda Fountain
Then: Perhaps the quintessential defining area of every drug store in the boomer era (and the generation before) was a soda fountain. Soda jerks were the uniformed workers — men and women — who manned the counter. They served up ice cream sodas, sundaes, banana splits and in some cases, hot dogs and sandwiches. It was the ice cream that Mister Boomer remembers. His father promised him a banana split after he had his tonsils removed when he was six years old. It was the first one he had ever eaten, and it was at the neighborhood drug store’s soda fountain. It was a thing of beauty, with half slices of banana slipped on the sides of a long glass dish. Then scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream were layered in, and covered with whipped cream. Hot fudge was drizzled on top of the whipped cream, followed by crushed walnuts. A cherry, centered over the middle scoop of ice cream, completed the masterpiece. Sometimes Mister B’s father would get him and his siblings a sundae while waiting for a prescription to be filled.

Now: Unless the drug store is a themed nostalgia establishment, the vast majority have eliminated the soda fountain.

A trip to the drug store could be a mundane affair, but as Mister Boomer recalls, it could also be an event. A child could experience the joy ice cream can bring, or take home a kite, model or toy while his parents acquired their needs.

What did your drug store mean to you, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comments Off on Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now

Boomers Helped to Alter the Christmas Shopping Countdown

Boomers were born into the beginnings of the Consumer Age, when “buying more” equaled “progress.” Now that the Christmas shopping season is here once again, it’s time for Mister Boomer — an aging boomer Scrooge himself — to rant about how in our day it was “To everything … there is a season,” but now it’s “All about the Benjamins.”

In the boomer era the Christmas season, in most small to middle-sized towns, wasn’t “officially” started until the lighting of the community Christmas tree. The tree could be a naturally-growing one in a city park, or a twenty-to-thirty foot tall evergreen erected for the season in a town square or shopping district. In any case, it was decorated with lights and sometimes large ornaments that were wired to the branches to thwart wind gusts and mischievous hands. It was a citywide event when it came time to turn on the lights. Very often a local celebrity or political figure “flipped the switch” to illuminate the tree. Hundreds of people would brave the inevitable cold (and sometimes, snow) to come out for the tree lighting, in anticipation of the festive season’s arrival. Some Christmas carols might be sung by school kids, or, the crowd that gathered joined in singing. Local TV would be sure to get some footage for the evening news.

The thing is, the annual tree lighting was never in November; it was always held within the first two weeks or weekends of December. President Franklin Roosevelt had the Thanksgiving holiday pushed back one week in 1941 in an effort to give retail merchants a longer Christmas shopping season. The intent was to offer an economic boost to help get the country out of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Black Friday shopping was barely a blip in most areas after the War, as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend was yet to be fully exploited the way other holidays had been (with the exception of professional football on TV, that is).

Christmas as a religious holiday always had an uneasy connection to capitalistic commerce through Santa Claus, who was depicted both as a religious figure and the bearer of toys to delight girls and boys. Santa’s arrival was often timed to coincide with the tree lighting. As befitting a prominent figure, the man in the red suit could arrive to the tree lighting by firetruck or, in some cases, helicopter. Some towns had Christmas parades planned around the event.

Our parents, a generation that grew up in the worst economic depression the country had ever seen — which was then followed by a World War — wanted very much to give their children as much as they possibly could, literally and figuratively. Consequently, the optimistic atmosphere of post-war America turned the holiday, with each passing year, into a season of want that continues to expand. As Baby Boomers we only knew the world we lived in, and not the one that came before, so more toys and gifts than our parents received as kids was only natural to us. The new national medium of TV did a lot to instill within us the desire to bug our parents for advertised products, and they obliged whenever they could. It looks like we did the same thing to our children, and they to theirs.

It seemed the more people bought in those boomer days, the hungrier merchants got, so the shopping season kick off of Black Friday gained in importance by the mid-60s. By the time the 1970s rolled around, a lot of cities abandoned the tree lighting ceremonies for several reasons, including protests over the separation of church and state, financial considerations of local governments and, in the case of Mister Boomer’s area as well as a host of others, the rise of local indoor malls, which took over the duties of creating tree lighting ceremonies of their own.

While Mister B has noticed a steady increase in the intensity of early holiday shopping through the years, he decries the frenzy foisted upon the populace by corporate-owned stores that he has witnessed over the past few years. Baby Boomers grew up in an age where by mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving Day Uncle Ned had unbuckled his belt and half the family was asleep in front of the TV football game. Now some families are piling into the SUV and headed for the mall.

We aren’t going back to the Mayberry days of our youth, to be sure, but shouldn’t we have one silent night before the onslaught of a month of blaring Silent Nights?

What do you think, boomers? When should the floodgates be opened for Christmas shopping?

posted by Mister B in Holidays and have Comment (1)

How Did Boomer Families Carry Home Groceries?

It’s estimated that more than 1 trillion plastic bags are thrown away each year worldwide, amounting to billions of pounds of plastic landfill in the U.S. alone. But it wasn’t always this way, and we boomers recall a time when there wasn’t a single plastic bag to be had in a grocery store that wasn’t on a pre-packaged product. In fact, there was only one way to carry home groceries, and pieces of produce as well: paper bags.

Machines that made paper bag production possible were invented during the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s. Before that time, cloth bags, wooden boxes and plant-based woven baskets were the carrying containers of their day.

“Plastics,” as a character prophetically stated in The Graduate (1967), was the future, and that future began arriving in the mid-’60s. Plastic produce bags on a roll were first seen in 1966. Nonetheless, it took another decade before it became the norm for supermarkets to substitute plastic for paper in the produce aisle.

It was eleven years later — in 1977 — when the now ubiquitous “t-shirt” plastic bag was introduced to the supermarket industry. Again, it took almost a decade for the complete transition to occur for consumers to switch from paper to plastic for carrying groceries, and ultimately, everything purchased at a store.

Mister Boomer recalls shopping with his parents at both local grocery stores and national supermarket chain stores. The produce aisles of each may have differed in size and selection, but along the expanse of counters in every grocery store were stacks of paper bags in different sizes. Picking up some tomatoes? There was a smaller size available. A dozen apples? Choose a medium size. Selecting from a bin of loose potatoes? A larger sack would be in order. Need two lemons? No bag would be necessary at all and the lemons could just be placed into the shopping cart.

When it came time to check out, heavy-duty paper bags — or paper bags doubled — could be packed with all your produce and groceries for the trek home. Some stores offered paper bags with handles, while others required a supporting arm beneath the sack for transport.

So what changed? For one thing, we have always been a people who wanted to embrace new technology. We like creating things that make us feel modern. But one of the biggest factors was probably cost: plastic bags could be bought by the stores cheaper than paper at that time.

During the transition period of the 1970s, many stores asked you which you preferred, paper or plastic. Our parents’ generation was used to scrimping, saving and repurposing, first through the Depression and then through a World War. So even when plastic was their choice, it meant that each bag would be reused for all sorts of purposes, from storage to garbage. In the years before plastic sandwich bags became the norm, Mister B remembers his grandmother saving plastic bread wrappers. At that time — the early 1960s — bread began being wrapped in plastic instead of waxed paper. She kept a stack of clean plastic bread wrappers in her pantry to use for sandwiches, leftovers, cheese wedges and more.

Our society has accepted much more of a throwaway mindset since our early boomer days, but there are indications that things may be changing. Some municipalities are looking at taxing plastic bag use, or eliminating them altogether in an effort to address the environmental impact. Other stores are offering incentives to use reusable sacks for carrying home groceries. The produce aisle may not be far behind as cloth and mesh produce bags are readily available online.

The Boomer Generation has always shown itself to be far from monolithic in thought, but Mister B wonders whether the generation that was the first to push forward an environmental awareness agenda couldn’t have a greater influence on the societal direction of things like the use of plastic produce and grocery bags. If it was the natural order of things when we were young, why would it be so much of an inconvenience today? Maybe it’s time we took a look at our shared history and remind ourselves that we are stardust, we are golden. And maybe it’s time to get ourselves back to the Garden.

Do you remember shopping in the pre-plastic bag era, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History,Technology and have Comment (1)

Holiday Shopping Hours Bring Nostalgia Back to Boomers

The Black Friday kick-off of the holiday shopping season has continued to expand since the days of our boomer youth, when Black Friday referred more to the traffic snarls generated by families out to see holiday decorations in the city than a juggernaut of holiday shoppers (see Boomers Made Black Friday). For the first time, many stores chose to begin their Black Friday promotions on Thanksgiving Thursday this year, prompting hails from some and jeers from others. Now, this past week, Toys R Us announced its flagship store in Times Square, New York City, would remain open 24 hours a day right through the month of December until Christmas Eve.

Holiday shopping hours are something that have continued to change with the decades. In the 1950s and ’60s, it would be next to impossible to find a store open on Thanksgiving (except for bakeries and gas stations). The same was true for restaurants. As far as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving wasn’t as developed a marketing maelstrom as is it today, so many stores kept their regular Friday hours. Those regular hours were quite a bit different than the holiday shopping hours of today, too.

When Mister B was in his formative years, he recalls that Sears Roebuck and Co. — the largest and one of only a few national stores in his area — was not even open every night of the week. Sears was open only on Tuesday and Friday evenings, and therefore all the other stores that inhabited the outdoor mall (this was long before indoor malls), followed suit. Years later, when Mister B started his working life in minimum-wage retail, this evening time was known as the “after dinner rush,” when families would come out shopping between the hours of six and nine p.m. And the key word there is, indeed, families. Since families each had one car, shopping “trips” were an excursion that required that the entire family be present. Holiday shopping would almost always follow this convention, with the family splitting up inside a department store or mall, marking a spot and time to meet-up. Some of the children (usually the boys) would be assigned to shop with their father, while others (usually the girls) would shop with their mothers.

There was no exception for weekends, either. Stores frequently closed at five or six p.m. on Saturdays, and in the early days weren’t open at all on Sundays. Many areas had blue laws prohibiting commerce on Sundays, and that didn’t begin to change in Mister B’s area until the late 1960s. By the mid-’70s, evening shopping hours were the norm, as was Sunday shopping. However, Sundays were limited to half-day hours, which was usually noon to five p.m.

Our entire culture has changed dramatically since we were young boomers, and that is reflected in our shopping patterns. In our early days, holiday shopping was a process — one shared by a family and designed to absorb the sights, sounds and smells of the season. Today it appears holiday shopping is all about the quickness of a bargain, and “getting it done.” Houses were much smaller in our day (see Boomers in the House: Square Footage Changes With the Generations), and it goes without saying that the size of the closets we grew up with are a complete non-starter with today’s families. Simply put, we had less space, and fewer things. Holiday gift giving, therefore, in some ways required more thought. The shopping experience forced us to think of the recipient, not only in terms of his or her likes and dislikes, but in the utility and usefulness of the gift. There were very few “must-haves” when we were children (though Saturday morning cartoon sponsors may have had a little to say about that), prompting gifts that may have missed the mark at times, but were always thoughtful.

The question then arises, is one better than the other? Times have changed so dramatically that it seems inevitable that holiday shopping hours would have to accommodate the schedules of today’s two-income households. In our day, we simply went to the stores when they were open. Moms generally didn’t work outside the home, and kids came home after school. Now, work schedules have expanded and kids’ schedules are also a big factor on when the family might even be available, let alone all go shopping together.

Nonetheless, as we speed forward through this holiday season, Mister B suggests you try to inject some of this nostalgia back into your family’s shopping. The holiday shopping of our youth is still available in most areas, thanks to small business districts. The windows of these independent businesses are the first places we as boomers saw animatronic figures, electric trains and doll houses, all decked out in holiday style. They are the places we kept in our heads when we dreamed of Santa and what might be waiting for us on Christmas morning. If you pause to rediscover these shops in your area, you’ll see that the holiday shopping of our youth is alive and well; many will gift wrap for you, and always they will give you service with a smile and wish you the merriest of seasons.

How about it, boomers? Was holiday shopping an experience that shaped your holiday traditions or an annual ordeal?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Holidays,Pop Culture History,Seasons and have Comments Off on Holiday Shopping Hours Bring Nostalgia Back to Boomers

Christmas Shopping the Boomer Kid Way

As young children, we boomers faced many challenges when it came time to shop for Christmas. Our first challenge, of course, was transportation. As youngsters, we were at the mercy of our parents. Once we got to be eight or so, walking (with our neighborhood group) to any stores within a couple of miles became possible, but in earlier times, the family car was it. “Family car” was singular, because it was extremely rare for a middle-class suburbanite to have more than one car in the 1950s and 60s.

In that era, stores were not open every night of the week. More than likely, they were open two weekday evenings, plus Saturdays … and never on Sunday. With dinner being served between 5 and 6 p.m., that left little time for actual shopping since stores would close promptly at 9 p.m.

When it came time to jump into the car and visit a store, chances are it was to a major department store. Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney and Sears, Roebuck and Company were the biggest, though there were regional department store chains that had also expanded to the suburbs. The different departments gave each member of the family the opportunity to search for something on their list.

The typical plan of action was to split up into two camps, with some of the children going with the father, the others with the mother. It was not unusual for families to have two to six boomer children in tow. Splitting up enabled the children to shop for the siblings or parent they were not attached to at the moment.

Children were expected to use their own money to purchase gifts. It helped those who received an allowance to learn the virtues of savings. Mister Boomer did not receive an allowance, so money at the pre-teen age came by way of birthday gifts from grandparents, snow shoveling and pop bottle redemption. Sometimes a parent would sweeten the pot and contribute a few dollars to Mister Boomer’s Christmas fund.

For many families, including Mister Boomer’s, the Christmas shopping season was not complete without a visit to Downtown. There, children could visit the “real” Santa, since we all knew the suburban stores only used his helpers. Even more, families could make a day or evening out of viewing the holiday decorations and window displays. Dressed in snow suits and galoshes, our mittens were attached to our coat sleeves by way of clasps on either end of a small piece of elastic. We’d trudge through the snow and marvel at the festive lights, giant snowflakes and ornaments hovering on lampposts, and garlands of evergreens scenting the air with the unmistakable aroma of the holidays.

The major department store that sponsored the Thanksgiving Day parade always had the most elaborate window displays. Animatronic characters in seasonal tableaus told a story in each window. Macy’s, in New York City, had begun the tradition of holiday window decorations in the late 1800s as a way of luring more Christmas shoppers. Now, in boomer time after the War, Downtown stores took up the banner as a way to lure the new suburbanites back Downtown. For the most part, it worked.

Mister Boomer vividly recalls one such Downtown visit. After the obligatory visit to Santa (Mister B was a non-Santa believer by then, thanks to his skeptical nature even at age six, but the final straw came by way of his brother’s prodding), Mister B and his sister were lead to a special “Children’s Shopping Land.” The store had sectioned off an area where parents weren’t allowed, and children could shop on their own. Mister Boomer walked through the entryway of giant candy canes, holding the hand of his younger sister who trailed behind. Inside, a single aisle snaking around displays kept children moving in the right direction, with helper elves along the way. Display bins were filled with low-cost items children could afford. Getting near the end, Mister B hadn’t found anything he deemed acceptable. Finally, he hovered at a bottle of bubble bath for his mother. It was a large, opaque white glass bottle with a flower painted on it. His indecision, though, sprang from the price – it was above the budget he had in mind. After some whining from his sister, Mister B decided to purchase the gift. The path lead directly to the checkout register and ultimate exit, where parents could collect their children. Mister B’s parents did just that, but his brother said the children weren’t done shopping yet. Taking charge of Mister B and his sister, he lead them to another area of the store.

Mister B’s brother had seen a Norelco electric shaver — the same one that was advertised on TV — that he thought would be the perfect gift for their father. There was no way he could afford the gift on his own, so he needed his two siblings to contribute to the purchase. Arriving at the counter, a good-natured man in a white shirt and tie removed a hard-shelled, rounded corner case from the display and opened it for us to view. An electric shaver with pivoting circular blades appeared. It was a true symbol of modern man, and what they wanted for their father. Gathering their last bit of dollars and change, they were just able to come up with the cost of the gift.


This is the actual commercial that had caught Mister Boomer’s and his siblings’ attention.

Arriving back at the designated meeting spot, the family made their way to the store exit as the announcement was made for closing time. They quickly made their way through the revolving doors; all but Mister B, that is. He had hesitated. The whirl of the doors was just too much for him. The speed was too fast and it didn’t seem likely to him that he would make it through. Now on his own on one side of the door while the family was on the other, they urged him to “come on!” but he froze in place. Finally, with more shoppers gathering behind him, he garnered the gumption to step into the whirling doors. He entered with such conviction that as his arms reached up for the door handle, the bag containing his bubble bath gift swung like a pendulum, abruptly stopping at the glass with a large, ominous crack. “Oh NO!” he thought, but there was no time to dally, he had to get out of the door. Stepping into the outside, the family began their walk back to the car. Mister B, trailing back a few steps, carefully reached down and felt the outside of the bag. It seemed OK. Evidently his family, focused on coaxing him through the door didn’t notice this secondary drama going on, so it looked as if he might get a pass on his latest bout with clumsiness.

Once home, Mister B took the bubble bath bottle from the bag and carefully inspected it. It was a Christmas Miracle! The bottle remained completely intact. All that was left was to wrap it and place it under the tree.


If you can’t find some Christmas gifting in this clip to relate to, you probably aren’t a boomer.

Mister B cannot remember what his mother thought of the bubble bath. But attending his father’s funeral a couple of years ago, Mister B came across the Norelco shaver in his parents’ house. Bearing the marks of years of use, it was still in its case as it was when the Boomer children wrapped it up a lifetime ago.

How about it, boomers? Is there a gift you purchased that you can point to that helps define your early boomer years?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comment (1)