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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Charge, please


When I was little Mom made most of her purchases at O’Neil’s Department store, right there on Main Street and directly across from Polsky’s, the other major department store.  Shoes, socks, clothing, linens, furniture…if we needed it, Mom went to O’Neil’s.  The clerk would stack the selections on the counter, write up a bill, ring it on the cash register, and then ask “Will that be cash or charge?”  Sometimes Mom took cash from her billfold; sometimes she took out the little blue leatherette case that held her revolving charge card, a small piece of metal the size of a dog tag.  The card went on an imprinter, the top of the written bill went over the card, the handle was pushed down and mother’s name and address imprinted on the top of the bill.  Then the card and the bill went into a metal cylinder and were whisked away by a pneumatic tube, off to the credit office.  The clerk bagged the purchases and chatted with mom, the cylinder whooshed back in the pneumatic tube, credit approved.  Mom signed the bottom and home we went.

Fast forward twenty or so years; I was a young mother and the store was Higbee’s in Cleveland.  Beth was just two, Shelly was imminently due and we were in the dry goods department.  I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I took Beth’s hand and set off for the down escalator.  Just as I had both feet and a very pregnant belly on the escalator, ready to get her onto the step too, Beth yelled “My purse, my purse!”, wrenched her hand away and ran into the crowd.  Every mother’s nightmare.  I rode down the slow, rackety wooden steps, swung around and got straight on the slow, rackety wooden up escalator.    I found her in the middle of dry goods, looking around and realizing at last she was lost, but clutching the little purse she had set down.  We set off again to the lower floor, where I made my final selection and laid it on the counter.  Beth and the clerk chatted like old friends as my purchase was rung up.  Beth flipped my blouse up to my chest and told the clerk “There’s a baby in here.”  I pulled myself back together and took my purse off my shoulder as the clerk asked “Will that be cash or charge?”

“Charge, please,” said Beth, opening her purse and handing a red seat belt retractor up to the counter.  The clerk gravely took it, completed and bagged the purchase and handed Beth back her charge card.  “You take good care of that baby.”


Beth's charge card, the black issue

19 comments:

  1. Sweet of the clerk to be so kind and play along. If I did it ,do you think I'd get the same reaction from the clerk?!
    Jane x

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  2. Not too many salespeople would have taken the time. You found a good one. And what a sweet little girl.

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  3. Wow, you were in Higbee's of "Christmas Story" fame? My childhood was spent in small, small towns. At the age of 10, in the town of Dovray, the only store to buy anything other than groceries was Smestad's Mercantile. It was a genuine general store and I'm sure there were very few left in 1950.

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    1. I was often in Higbees in Cleveland with my grandmother, when I was a child. Every bit as magnficient as the movie. All red, gold and sparkle and day of the year.

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  4. Joanne that was a beautiful, beautiful story... You have such a way with words. Do you have a photo of yourself back when you were pregnant? I'd love to see one!!!

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    1. A lost family photo--and I have looked and looked--is my Uncle Hank and me back to back, our big bellies out in front of us.

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  5. What a lil' cutie Beth was!!!! And yeah, while growing up down here in Canton a good portion of my wardrobe came from O'Neil's -- now Macy's. Later, my kids' clothes came from O'Neil's or Higbee's when they decided that we deserved a store here. lol

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  6. I wish people had that kind of customer service now. Great story Jo.

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  7. Joanne, what a great story of life before computers took over the credit cards.

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  8. I really, really miss that kind of customer service. The staff knew about the products they sold, and were polite and human. Sigh. Thank you. I loved this reminiscence.

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  9. Another lovely post. We also had a store with the pneumatic tubes, although this is a much smaller town! I remember getting clothes and shoes there as a child with my mother, fabric when I began to sew, and my wedding gown years later, shortly before it closed down. Good memories!

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  10. Absolutely wonderful Joanne...Thank you and Bethie...The pneumatic tube store in my home town was The Big Store of Auburn and we could watch the tube going up to the billing office where our neighbor, Elinor Conran, would look down and wave...Mother didn't do many charge as in those days (1950's) farmers always paid cash..Thank you...

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  11. It would be rare to find that type of customer service today in a store. I enjoyed your memories.

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  12. Another wonderful story...please keep them coming. Those mystical, magical tubes and cannisters, I so wanted to have a go.

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  13. Great story! I've seen one of those credit/cashier tubes before, kind of like a bank teller tube. Too bad all those quirky little inventions can't stick around.

    That's really cute how your daughter tried to pay for everything with the seatbelt buckles!

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  14. That is so cute! I remember (dimly) those things on wires, I could never figure them out. I must have been really young!

    Pity you can't REALLY buy things with seat buckles! :D

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  15. I remember my mum buying things and charging them. Our system was different, the store had a set of shelves with many small "charge" books with the customer's name on the spine. We'd select our goods, find our book, then take both to the counter where the purchases were written up on a fresh page with a carbon sheet underneath. The top copy was given to mum, with the carbon staying in the book, accounts were to be settled each month or at least part payments were to be made. The same system was in small corner grocery stores too and I remember my dad sending me around every payday to pay ten shillings off "the book", then bring home bread and cheese and sugar. I hated doing this as the account never seemed to get paid off. When I began working I promised myself I would never be in debt like this if I could possibly help it. There were a couple of times when I had to charge things (never food), but mostly I was debt free even with four small kids and I'm still debt free now.

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  16. P.S. Our pneumatic tubes were used for cash purposes. The money was sent up and in a few minutes the tube would come whizzing back down with the change and the receipt.

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  17. Such a sweet story! I love it when people play along. So special.

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