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HOLLENBECK: No cash in pocketbook? Well, just put that on the charge-a-plate

April 30, 2012

No cash in the pocketbook? Well, just put that on the charge-a-plate

As a Lucille Ball zealot, I can fill in the dialogue on most of the old "I Love Lucy" episodes.
Truth be told, I've seen these reruns so many times that I think I could play any of the characters — maybe even Little Ricky.
In addition to their entertainment value, these old shows are trips in nostalgia. They trigger many memories of life as I remember it from earlier years.
One segment I saw recently featured Lucy and Ricky's neighbors, Fred and Ethel (William Frawley and Vivian Vance), singing an advertising ditty about a store called Phipps Department Store. The plot called for the owner of Phipps to back singer Ricky in some venture and all of the foursome were appearing in a TV promotion to encourage shopping at Phipps.
In part of the segment, the Ricardos' landlords and best friends warbled about using a "Phipps-a-plate." Most of today's generation wouldn't get that. They wouldn't know the couple wasn't singing about a dinner plate or a name plate and would have no way of knowing that the Phipps-a-plate was the store's credit system. But for a lot of years, all such things were known as charge-a-plates. And the bearers of such were careful to protect them.
My mother would have fought off a gang of street ruffians if they had tried to take her Goldsmith's charge-a-plate. She considered the "gold" in the items more than reflective of just the store's name; for her it was her key to the shopping mecca of the South.
These credit vouchers actually were little metal plates, for the world of plastic — as in credit — hadn't happened yet.
The plates had raised lettering that included the name of the store, the customer's name and address and, of course, the customer's account number. They actually were similar to military dog tags, but weren't attached to a chain that you wore around the neck.
Mamma's Goldsmith's charge-a-plate was always secured in a brown leather case just large to hold the charge plate securely. And Mamma was the force that kept it secure from that point forward.
Goldsmith's was THE place to shop in Memphis for more years than I know about. Mamma could find what she wanted there regardless of the occasion. She and the store's personal shopper were as close as Sunday School buddies.
My close friends and I have many happy recollections of shopping trips there with our mothers.
A special part of the experience was having lunch in the store's Tea Room, where selected models showed off the latest in fashions while we dined on such culinary delights as chicken fricassee and strawberry parfait.
And the store's bakery, that was located off the basement parking deck, was always a delight to pass. The many-tiered wedding cakes merited a nod from the great chefs of the time.
A time gone by, but not forgotten. The memories are priceless.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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