I was running late for a noon-hour meeting the other day when I stopped at a local gas station to grab one of those tasty $1 spiced pumpkin cappuccino drinks they have during the fall.
The girl at the counter looked at the drink. “Is that all you’re getting?”
Yes, I said. Have a good day, she said.
OK. What do I owe you?
Nothing. Have a good day.
Nothing, I stammered? What’s the deal?
“I just feel like being nice,” she said. OK. I will have a good day. Thank you.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve been pleasantly caught off-guard like that. There was a time, though, when businesses like gas stations fought for your business. You would pull in, someone else would pump your gas, check your oil, wash your windshield, offer to vacuum the inside of your car, hand you a free box of tissue and perhaps some trading stamps or glassware.
Banks pampered new customers, too, often giving out sporting goods and household items when you opened an account.
Many of these freebies have been passed on from generation to generation. I have a couple of cereal bowls that came from boxes of cereal my mother ate as a girl. I also have a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring from the 1930s and a Fibber McGee & Molly puzzle from the 1940s, both free (or cheap) premiums.
Some of your family heirlooms may have similar origins. My friend Jasia over at Creative Gene found out that her mother’s dinnerware probably came from “dish night” at Detroit, Mich., theaters. Many young families built up their pantries and young ladies filled their hope chests, one piece at a time on dish night.
Although I don’t know if Mark Heggen of Encino, Calif., is familiar with dish night, he is something of an expert on old Des Moines movie theaters and the long-gone Riverview Park. After being on hiatus for several months, Mark produced a flurry of posts on his Lost Cinemas of Des Moines site last week. Check it out.