The Only Place
by Eric Bergeson, August 12, 2009
My grandfather had a thing for peanut butter. He ate it by the spoonful.
It couldn’t be just any peanut butter. It had to be organic peanut butter with a layer of clear grease on top to prove that it was unpasteurized.
What’s more, Grandpa was of the belief that organic unpasteurized peanut butter could only be purchased one place and one place only: At the grocery store in his old home town of Twin Valley, Minnesota.
Organic unpasteurized peanut butter was one of many reasons Grandpa could dream up to go to Twin Valley himself, or have one of us bring him to Twin Valley, or to send one of us to Twin Valley, or to have us stop in Twin Valley on our way somewhere else.
After Grandpa went into the nursing home, I found that our local grocery store also carried organic unpasteurized peanut butter. I ran down to his room with the exciting news — and a jar of organic unpasteurized peanut butter.
Grandpa was not thrilled. I couldn’t figure out why.
Then my mother, another practical sort, decided to put an end to Grandpa’s worries about stopping in Twin Valley for peanut butter once and for all. She bought him an entire case of the stuff for Christmas.
When Grandpa opened the gift, you’d think he had found a lump of coal in his stocking.
I finally understood the importance of organic unpasteurized peanut butter.
With a case of the stuff sitting in his room, he couldn’t very well keep track of our schedules so that we could pick up peanut butter in Twin Valley. What’s worse, he had one less reason for us to take him to Twin Valley.
So, Grandpa sent the case of peanut butter home with me. He didn’t have room for it at the nursing home. He would call for it one jar at a time as needed. It wasn’t as good as the stuff from Twin Valley, but it would have to do.
Another habit of the older generation has always mystified me: The practice of driving to town to get the exact right stamp for your overstuffed letter.
Now, you can’t turn the key of your car for under 20¢, much less drive to town, and if you figure your time is worth more than $2 per hour it makes good financial sense just to stick enough first class stamps on to make sure the letter will go. If you put on 20¢ too much, so what.
But no, people drive to town just to make sure that the dastardly post office doesn’t get twenty cents more than it deserves. And they congratulate themselves for their frugality.
What people really want is an excuse to go to town. Getting the right stamp sounds is as good a reason as any. If you can make the trip look like it saves money, that will placate the dead ancestors who watch over every dime you spend.
An area grocer with a keen sense of the local psychology pulled a good one a few years ago: He distributed coupons all over the area for cheap milk.
Pretty soon he had people driving 40 miles one way just to save a couple of dollars on milk. Of course, after driving that far they also picked up eggs and bananas and Metamucil and a whole bunch of other things that were not reduced in price.
Oh, how proud these people were that they had saved a couple of dollars on milk. If you brought up to them that the savings was only savings if you assume gas is free, cars are free and that your time is worth nothing, you were ignored.
The real reason for going 40 miles one way for cheap milk? It’s an excuse to get out. Getting milk for cheap, for those raised in the Depression, was an excuse with which nobody could argue.
So next time somebody you know and love runs to town for a 5¢ stamp, or drives 50 miles because they have a coupon, or goes to Twin Valley for organic unpasteurized peanut butter, don’t spoil their party.
Sometimes its best if the only place you can get organic unpasteurized peanut butter is at the store in Twin Valley.