FREE: A word that doesn’t change.

There’s a story behind the Two Pan’s Needles, Dogs, and Secrets posted last week.

Is it me...or are the freebies getting weirder?

It surprised the woofers out of me to discover that sewing needles were a precious commodity in the newly opened Western territories. It was easier to find bullets and bear traps than sewing necessities. (Now days, you can find mending kits at convenience stores. That’s a handy change I won’t squint at)

Women’s Voices from the Oregon Trail* records only one darning needle in Pass Creek Valley in 1853. It was carried like precious cargo in its potato transport. According to the child walking it to the next homestead miles away, (Side note:  How far do we let kids walk today—unescorted?), it was the bear’s fault he lost the potato.  (I suppose hiding from a mama bear with two cubs might cause spud separation.)  This was such a catastrophe, all of the community kicked trail duff and clawed through underbrush for days until they found the potato.

Months later, a peddler passed through the valley. When he heard the story, he gave a “Christmas present” to each territorial family—a needle.

The peddler, Aaron Meier, went on to establish a chain of department stores. One-hundered years later, in 1967, one of their ads stated:

We still want every woman to have a darning needle of her own.  Come into our Fabric Center…Tuesday and get yours, free.

via PdxHistory.com. Check out: "Meet Me Under the Clock." for a great story.

In 2006, the 16 store/acquisitions were sold to Macy’s.  Since then, the only free thing I’ve received are wads of Macy’s coupons.  (I don’t count the perfume stinkums as gifts.)

“FREE” remains the most effective word in advertising.  That hasn’t changed.

To compete with the new Safeway Monster, our small local grocery has giveaways.  No sewing needles yet…

but last week I was gifted with a 5# bag of potatoes. I can always use food.

*Recollection of Elaine Burns in Women’s Voices from the Oregon Trail. Susan G. Butruille, Tamarack Books, Inc.1993
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About Barb

I escaped from a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma. I'm not sure why people think I have an accent. I miss the sunshine, but not the fried foods.
This entry was posted in Appreciation, Change, Enough, Hope, Humor, Life and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

56 Responses to FREE: A word that doesn’t change.

  1. Loved this one, Barb. In old Indianola on the Texas coast, they used prickly pear thorns for pins.

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  2. clpollock says:

    I love to sew but I am so not the perfectionist!

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    • Barb says:

      You and me, both. They have us sewing up horse blankets and corset holders (things that people didn’t look at too closely). Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy your blog.

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  3. You find the most interesting tidbits of knowledge and then totally amuse us with them. I now have an explanation as to why I am useless with a needle. I probably am from the line of women who just didn’t get the ‘darn potato’.

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  4. Nezzy says:

    What a wonder history lesson on the needle but hay…you got a sack o ‘taders…Woohoo!!!

    That’s sure nothin’ to sneeze about!

    God bless ya sweetie and have a magnificent day!!! :o)

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    • Barb says:

      Thanks for the blessings. If I planted the taters, I’d have even more more. It’s always wise to double one’s investment. 2 X Free = Twice as much free. I could become a Tater Queen, and I’d use my super spud powers for good not evil.

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  5. Connie Wayne says:

    Congratulations on your recent nomination by Island Traveler for the Hope Unites Globally HUG Award. To accept the award and learn how to share it with others, please read the Guidelines at http://ahopefortoday.com/2012/01/14/hope-unites-globally-hug-award-guidelines/. Blessings, Connie at A Hope for Today.

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  6. The Hook says:

    Your skill and dedication shine bright, my friend! Your blog is definitely going places!

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  7. Wow, I didn’t realize needles used to be such a precious commodity! I’ve often thought as I pried a splinter out of my finger or sewed up a rip, that I wouldn’t want to be without one. I guess I wasn’t too far off base. Of course, the other half of that problem now is that without reading glasses, my needle isn’t quite as useful to me as it used to be either… :-/

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  8. I’m old enough to have grown up in a time when many things were treated as precious. Things you saved and used over and over again. I believe the waste in today’s society is what bothers me most. I don’t need to go into it, you know what I mean.

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    • Barb says:

      Yep. I know exactly how you roll. Fortunately there’s a slow return to reusable items. Even Stick-It-To-You-For-Peppermint-Drinks-Starbucks encourages reusable cups…if only we’d use them. Thanks for dropping by.

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  9. The “needle” story was truly touching. It made me remember how stores back then are like extensions of our friends. We know the owner, there’s freebies that comes a genuine heart to share and not just merely to advertise. As for free stuff…I’m in for that too. We do our groceries at HEB in Texas, There’s always a free one somewhere. And there’s always a free sampler of coffee everyday which you can refill as much as you want. Isn’t that awesome? The store had me with the caffeine goodness.
    Thank for today’ beautiful inspiration. Best wishes to you and your family.

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    • Barb says:

      You bring up a good point. I wonder how many of us know the name of at least one person who works at our favorite grocery. Thanks for the new goal. Now I’m off to talk to them about free coffee instead of potatoes.

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  10. I read this one out of order. I was so distressed about the needle potato. Then I read the previous post and realized you thread the needle first and then you can always find it (and not with your tongue). Duh! I must be from good pioneer stock–a line that died out.

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    • Barb says:

      Your lineage survived because they had basic sewing skills and probably never had time to poke a potato with a needle. And see…your survival skills kicked in because you know not to eat a potato threaded with a needle.

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  11. Elyse says:

    I would have made a poor pioneer. My 7th grade sewing teacher said that I’d never learn to sew. She was prescient.

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    • Barb says:

      Yes…it was sort of an important pioneer skill, where girls were judged by the backside of a sewing project as well as the front. The underside of all my projects are full of knots and really ugly stitches. I’d have been known as the Knotty Woman of the territory.

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  12. Red says:

    I live in the town where they would have thrashed the child for having lost the needle, sent him back to the bear cave without supper, to stay until he found it. Their version of free is me giving them something. I think the only thing I have left to give them is contempt. Although, sarcasm is one of the free services I provide. 😉
    Red.

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    • Barb says:

      I believe some stores feel that if you give them money, they’ll give your free supplies. Some of them even supply free bags to carry it in and a free checker to tally how much of a donation you should throw in their pot (which looks a lot like a till)

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  13. souldipper says:

    After my “heavy” post today, this is a delightful change, Barb. Imagine the ingenuity of carrying a needle in a potato. That’s how trees were brought from England to Canada – especially apple trees – in spuds. The grafted portion drew moisture from the potato during the long trips over the Atlantic and across Canada to the West Coast.

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  14. moma escriva says:

    If you leave the pin in the potato you could bake it and it wouldn’t blow up in the oven. It would be a reusual piece of equipment.

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    • Barb says:

      Moma…I’m…I’m….befuddled. I do poke my potatoes, but I don’t pin them to death. Sounds like a cruel experiment and the Society for the Protection of Potatoes would descend at my door and confiscate my microwave. I’d be banned from buying all but tater tots for the rest of my starch-lacking days.

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  15. As someone who came to sewing later in life and loathed early sewing lessons I would have gifted that bear with that potato. I did eventually come to sewing so I would have joined the search – after first cuffing the younger me around the ears. (does that make sense? I think it makes sense. I hope it makes sense)
    Thankyou. Another delightful post. You are one of my heroes.

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  16. ansuyo says:

    “Spud separation” — I wonder why that’s not in the Psych books? Oh, they didn’t have Psychology/Psychiatry back then – they drank or dealt with it. I love how you drop those little pieces of humor into your posts. I love the information too. I have needles everywhere – knitting needles, darning needles, every other kind of needle because I always think I need more for some reason. I’m just glad people still know what a needle is! Angie

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    • Barb says:

      Thanks Angie, it seems that more people than ever have reclaimed fabric craft. Bring your needles and come to susan swiderski’s house. If there’s no yarn on sale, we’ll start reconstructing her clothing while we wait for her to arrive with the cheese and wine…it’s always good to keep your fingers nimble.

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  17. Don’t get much in the way of free stuff, but my favorite store has buy one, get one deals every week, and what’s really nice is if you don’t want two, you can purchase one for half-price. Of course, we’ll not discuss how high those prices are compared to a couple years ago. I’ll take what I can get.

    Great post. (as usual)

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    • Barb says:

      Really? They let you buy one and you get it at half-price? You’re probably the reason the ads in our area state: “MUST BUY 2 TO GET PRICE”. Please keep next Saturday open. We’re all coming to your area and doing our shopping. We’ll have cheese & crackers at your house afterward. (I like that cheese that has the wine already mixed in).

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  18. Jon says:

    To get things for “free” now you are expected to give them a credit card number. No, thank you.

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    • Barb says:

      I guess, in that situation, you’re giving up information for the “free thing.” My new I-Hate-Safeway store wanted my address, phone, and email before they’d give me a discount club card. I bet the store is really excited they now have Tina Fey shopping there and their flyers are on their way to the 30 Rockefeller Square. Whoo HOO!

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  19. magsx2 says:

    Hi,
    You were lucky to get some free potatoes. When I see an advertisement that something is free, I always wonder what the catch is, which is normally hidden somewhere. 😀

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    • Barb says:

      Mags, you and Digipicsphotography have trust issues. If it were a car dealership,I’d doubt the word, “Free”, but I trust our little local store (Not the I-Hate-Safeway store) to give me some taters. But you have a point…when did we have to start reading grocery ads with a magnifying glass to check out the fine print? ( Must buy 10) (Valid only between midnight and 1am).

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  20. winsomebella says:

    I love the nuggets of humor that you tie into posts full of interesting facts from yesterday…..
    Today’s favorite nugget……spud separation 🙂

    Like

    • Barb says:

      It’s a NASA term. Since they’re going out of business, they’re selling off some of the lesser used technology which they won’t be using in the next century. “Moon pie” and lunar lovefest” are also up for auction.Any bids?

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  21. Michael Ann says:

    What a cool story!!

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  22. JustI says:

    Maybe that’s how the term ‘finding a needle in a haystack’ was coined. A precious commodity to lose in those days. It’s amazing how much we take for granted now that we have Velcro 🙂

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    • Barb says:

      I forgot all about Velcro. I remember a story about an engineer developing it. He got the idea from removing thistles from his dog. Here’s the weird thing…he invented it in 1941. (I just looked it up). Why’d it take so long to get on shoes? Oh yeah…because we HATE change.

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  23. Roxie Matthews says:

    I am spun into imaginings of precious “Good” things repurposed for daily necessities. Linen napkins unraveled for sewing thread to mend shirts and trousers. Father’s dress coat cut down for two coats for the children. The bridal petticoat gone to bandages . . . Ah, the things we take for granted.

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    • Barb says:

      I still reuse Zip-Loc bags, does that count? Actually, I did cut down a vintage dress to fit me. I wrote an article about it for the paper. It’s a fashion trend now called “Reconstructing Clothing.” SNORT….and young folks think it’s a new idea.

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  24. Arindam says:

    Even I find free as the most effective word in the world. Did you really get 5 bags potatoes for free? 🙂 This is really a nice post, I never ever read anything on this concept of “Free” before.

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    • Barb says:

      Yes, Arindam. Free taters, just for walking into the store. I could have also gotten a ‘free turkey”, if I would’ve spent $75 in groceries….but I don’t consider that free. That’s what digipicsphotography would call…”the other shoe dropping.”

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  25. “perfume stinkums”…haha, you make me laugh.
    Precious are needles and a 5 lb. bag of potatoes.

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    • Barb says:

      I had to dust my sewing machine the other day. If I lived in 1870, I’m afraid my children would be nekkid. I’d never get around to spinning the wool, much less weaving it, then cutting it out and sewing.

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  26. digipicsphotography says:

    “Free” is a powerful word, but I always wait for the other shoe to drop.

    Like

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