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Shopping Season Was Easier on the Farm

Mom made our clothes, and we ate what we grew.

All signs are literally pointing to the fact that the shopping season is in high gear.

Everywhere you look, placards are proclaiming such earth-shattering events as The Labor Day-Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s Mattress Blowout Sale or the Final, Final, Final This-Time-We-Really-Mean-It, Going-Out-Of-Business Used Car Bonanza.
My email inbox bulges with amazing offers from Amazon, mind-blowing merchandise at Macy’s, and unbelievable bargains from Best Buy. I am constantly being reminded that anything from anywhere on the planet is available with just a few keystrokes.
The TV thrums with a constant drumbeat of “You gotta have it!” commercials. A few minutes ago, I didn’t even know that Bluetooth-controlled internet-connected automatic rutabaga slicers existed. After watching a commercial detailing the wondrous features of this device, I feel that my life won’t be complete without one.
This gusher of adverts is enough to make even the most hardened shopper’s head spin. I’m an amateur, so the ocean of advertisements makes me feel as though I’m drowning in information overload.
Shopping was much simpler when I was growing up on our family’s dairy farm. This wasn’t just because the internet hadn’t yet been invented, but mainly due to the fact that shopping was relegated to a tiny corner of our lives. We could never have imagined a world where buying stuff would be the central focus of one’s existence.
Once a week, Mom would draw up a shopping list and drive the 5 miles to our little farming community where Sid and Ruby Starkenberg operated a general store. At Starkenberg’s, you could buy anything from bib overalls to fresh beef to light bulbs to bubble gum to root beer. It was a miniature version of a superstore long before the superstore was even a twinkle in Sam Walton’s eye.
We did our best to restrain our spending at Starkenberg’s. It’s not like there was a lack of temptation. Who could resist that vast selection of penny candy (yes, it actually cost a penny) or those seductive balsawood toy gliders? We didn’t restrict our spending out of any sort of anti-consumerist sentiment. It was more because we simply couldn’t afford to indulge in impulse buying.
Our farm was basically a subsistence operation. We ate the animals that we raised, Mom baked homemade bread, and we canned the things that we grew in our sprawling garden. A garden that was only made possible by slave labor, by which I mean my seven siblings and me.
Mom made dresses from feed sacks for my sisters and sewed shirts for my brothers and me. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were hippie-dippie, back-to-the-land homesteaders long before that sort of thing became a fad.
It’s strange how things can go in cycles. When I was a youngster, we thought that it was a treat to eat a loaf of Wonder Bread purchased at Starkenberg’s. And even though we had all the farm-fresh meat we wanted, we begged Mom to buy Oscar Mayer wieners.
Nowadays, my wife and I scour farmers markets in search of bread like Mom used to bake. And mucho dinero is shelled out for garden preserves that are similar to those that we shed puddles of blood, sweat, and tears to produce back when we were kids.
At the end of each summer, our family would pile into our 1959 Ford station wagon and journey to the JC Penney’s in the bustling metropolis of Brookings – population at the time: 10,000 – to shop for school clothes.
Our purchases were much more strategic at that time. For instance, you never bought shoes for a kid that fit him or her perfectly. You purchased shoes that were a couple of sizes too large, assuming that foot growth would gradually take care of the discrepancy. While waiting for that to happen, the wearer simply had to don extra socks or stuff the shoe’s toes with newspaper.

This system was also used for clothing. So what if those jeans are too long? Just cuff them up until you grow into them. And we were constantly admonished to be careful with our clothes so that they could be handed down to the younger siblings. In an ideal world, an item of clothing would be worn by several successive kids before it was finally relegated to the rag pile.
These days, going to Brookings is as momentous for us as walking from the kitchen to the living room. Worn clothing is discarded as easily as used Kleenex.
The good old days may have been good, but they were also hard. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to order soon if I want free shipping on that automatic rutabaga slicer.

Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and in bookstores nationwide.

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