On Approval

Tales of Vashon


As kids, we didn’t waste much time seeking approval, my grades would prove that.  I was more interested in reading comic books than doing the chores.  In fact, there was an advertisement in the back of my “Superman Comic” offering a glittering collection of “stamps on approval,” which I sent for.  I used the stamps as trading material and they were soon all gone.  My stamp collection was pitiful to start with, but about a month later, here comes a letter from a lawyer, a big deal for a ten year old.  The lawyer wanted me to pay for the stamps.  Considering myself to be quite smart for a ten year old, I answered the lawyer’s letter: “Since the stamps were ‘on approval’ and I had approved of them, I didn’t have to pay.”  So much for a “child’s logic!”  Threatening letters came at regular intervals after that.  They were all ignored.

John and I were out on the deck smoking our cigars and discussing the Tesla coil we are building  and the mutual cost of the materials, some of which came from Ace Hardware.  John asked: “Are you using your Ace reward cards?”  “No,” I replied.  “They are always expired when I remember to use them.”

The moon was high in the blue sky over Tacoma as if it had no place to go; when the subject of S & H green stamps came up.  John offered, “We didn’t collect Raleigh cigarette coupons because nobody smoked except Grandpa and he smoked Cuban cigars.  My Father was in Cuba in our army air force but working for Boeing ..on the B-29 VHB..which was the ‘very heavy bomber’ which was the atomic one.

And we kids fought over who got to paste “green stamps” in the books we later redeemed.  Goodness knows what the poor workers at the redemption centers thought of our messy books that they had to redeem.”

“My Mom got a toaster for a bunch of ragged books and the toaster lasted for forty years.”

As for my own family, everybody or nearly everybody smoked in the 1950’s including our Mother who smoked Camels.  Aunt Pat and Aunt Verna smoked Raleigh’s  and saved coupons which came one to a package and an extra four coupons if the cigarettes were bought by the carton.  The coupons were redeemed using the Raleigh Gift Catalogue which was full of all the items necessary for a mid-income household in the 1950’s.

For 1,420 coupons Aunt Pat got a Sun-Beam steam and dry iron and for a Starlight watch by Elgin, it cost 1,875 coupons, or 37,500 cigarettes.  Aunt Pat threw her coupons into a large Chester drawer.

The Carahers lived in a big white house, 300 feet south of the Portage store which was owned by the Lavenders’.   Cousin Sue remembers going to the store and telling Cliff Lavender that her Mom had sent her down for a package of cigarettes, when they really won’t for her Mom.  Cliff handed Sue the cigarettes and the charges were then added to the Caraher’s account, while Cousin Jim and Mike and I were giggling on the front porch, waiting for Sue.  Hence we ran to the wooden stairs leading to the beach, where we hid behind a pile of beach boards and smoked Aunt Pat’s cigarettes.  We stuffed the left over cigarettes between the boards and took off looking for further adventures.

Mom smoked Camels and Grandma Ollie smoked Chesterfields.  When Grandma got up in the morning, the first thing she did was to put her feet on the floor and light up a Chesterfield.  When we kids asked why she smoked, Grandma said, “I have four sisters and it stops my coughing.”

Mom’s brother Tom lived in Hillsborough, Oregon where there was no sales tax on cigarettes.  Mom would collect orders for cartons of cigarettes from neighbors as far south as Colvos and then we would go visit her Brother Tom and our Aunt Aileen where they played canasta while us kids played behind the apartment house, putting pennies on the railroad tracks for the engine to run over; when the boxcars were pulled onto the siding to unload peanuts, some of which didn’t make it to the silo.

On the way home, the back seat and trunk were filled with grocery bags of cigarettes bound for the neighbors of Vashon, barely a place for us kids to sit.  We were never told that Mom was breaking the law, smuggling cigarettes.  Though we heard an “audible sigh” of relief when we crossed the bridge into Washington.  Mom responded in her own inimitable way: “I’m getting away with murder.”