Tennessee Mountain Stories

Mail Order

I’m a catalog shopper.  I often say that I lack the shopping gene.  I’d rather face a hard day of field work than a day at the mall.  I guess if I’m going to be crowded I’d rather it be trees that won’t push or shove or try to pick my pocket.  So I do my shopping via mail order, just like my grandmothers and great grandmothers for generations.

We’ve established here before that I’m pretty spoiled.  Even though I enjoy history and historical things; even though a part of me longs for the “olden days”, there’s another part of me that really enjoys some of our modern conveniences.  I am spoiled to being able to track my packages online and know where my order’s at and when it’s coming.  I’m spoiled to being able to look online and see all the choices that a company has and not just what they were able to print in the catalog that they sent me in the mail. I recently realized that I’m really spoiled to the speed of things we enjoy today.

I found a great buy on a brand name pair of shoes.  I ordered them and I’ve been waiting three weeks for them.  Now it’s not been very long ago that the standard shipping time for a catalog order was six to eight weeks.  Three long weeks I’ve been waiting; I still don’t have my shoes and I’m about to give up on them.  So I tracked them online; they came straight from China – I guess it really is a slow boat from China!

Sears Home number 52, Price $782 - $1995 From the Sears Archives

Sears Home number 52, Price $782 - $1995
From the Sears Archives

This experience got me to thinking about ordering so many things that your family needed from Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward and then waiting and waiting. You could buy huge things, a Ford car or even a prefabricated house.  Sears sold about 70,000 kit houses from 1908 until 1940.  I wonder what the shipping time was for a house?

There’s a story around home about Uncle George Hall (everybody called him Uncle George whether they were any kin or not) ordering a new car sometime in the late 1930’s.  It was delivered to Peter’s Store and word was sent to him by the next customer that headed toward Roslin.  Until he could make it to the store, the shiny new car sat in the “parking lot”.  It was the only car sitting there and got plenty of attention.

Some of the catalogs I particularly enjoy getting are the seed catalogs that start showing up late in the winter.  By that time I’m tired of being cold, tired of dreary overcast days and I’m looking forward to the first blooms peeking out of the leaves and getting out to plant the garden.  I’ve ordered seeds a number of times, although my garden planning is usually left till the last minute.  In fact, I’ve been known to be scrounging around trying to find tomato plants – why do those things sell out so quickly?  So if you have to make out your seed order, mail it in, wait for it to be received by the seed company, then they’ll package your seeds and send them to you.  You’d better be on top of things and get that order out good and early.  I guess in an agrarian home even though the winter can involve a lot of hard work, there is some free time you don’t have during the warmer months so there’s maybe more opportunity to get your seed order made out.