By Lee Cataluna
Mention "Gold Bond Stamps" and people get kind of a misty, faraway look in their eyes and a crooked little smile as the memories start to come back.
"Oh, yeaaaaaaah ..." they'll say slowly as images race of rainy Sundays spent sitting at the kitchen table helping mom affix stamps into the little booklets.
It used to be most grocery stores in Hawai'i would give out the stamps with each purchase. If mom came home from Nagasako's with a two-foot long roll, you knew she bought enough food to last a couple of weeks. And you knew how you'd be spending the next rainy Sunday.
The books of stamps could be redeemed for various household items. What Hawai'i family didn't have part of the set of plates and glasses with the wheat design in the middle?
Perhaps, like Barbara Kozuma of Hilo, you still have a stash of stamps you've kept for many years. Kozuma estimates she has about 22 books that she collected in 17 years of living and shopping on O'ahu. She's been holding on to the stamps for 16 years. Her story is like the story of so many moms a generation ago:
"We were raising kids, working several jobs and who had time to take stock of that little BOX of stuff into which the stamps were tossed," Kozuma wrote. "Then, the children became teenagers and were given the job of organizing the stamps. If they did that, we said they could make the selection of items they wanted from the catalogue. Well, they never could agree on what they wanted so THE BOX got put away on a high shelf ... schlepped to Hilo when we moved ... and now, in our twilight years, in trying to unload the stuff that one accumulates over the years, THE BOX with the stamps came to light once more."
If you, like Barbara Kozuma, have THE BOX or the stash or the ZipLoc bag stuffed to the gills with dog-eared stamps you didn't think were worth anything anymore but couldn't bring yourself to throw out ... GUESS WHAT?! They're still good!
Sharon Asato of the Gold Bond Stamp Company in Honolulu says, "Even if the stamps are, like, 38 years old, we still honor them."
The latest Gold Bond Stamps catalogue, called a "gift book", doesn't have the kind of stuff you might remember from generations ago. No wheat-pattern plates. No avocado-green toasters. Instead, there's stuff like Sony cordless phones for 30 books, a Krups coffee maker for 90 books, even a Compaq desktop computer system for 991 books.
The sad thing is that there are precious few stores that still give out the stamps, so working up to 991 books is pretty hard to do. On O'ahu, there's only one store left that gives out Gold Bond Stamps with purchases: Waipahu Drug. The store on Hikimoe street still has that retro Gold Bond sign outside, the one with the little guy in a tam, winking. Drive by on the street behind Times Waipahu and take a look. You'll recognize him instantly.
Beloved Ooka's in Wailuku held on to the program until last year, but now no stores on Maui give out the stamps. A few places on the Big Island and on Moloka'i still participate in the program, and Friendly Market in Kaunakakai also serves as a stamp redemption center. But other than that, if you want the wheat plates, you have to scoop up the occasional pieces that show up at Goodwill and Savers.
There's something to be said here about the changing times. Don't get me wrong, I love my Maika'i card; but the idea of saving stamps, a little at a time, working toward the goal of a wheat-pattern gravy boat or an avocado-colored toaster is somehow solid and old-fashioned and good.
After all this time, Kozuma is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her catalogue.
"This time," she says, "I will make a selection even though my husband said it's grounds for possible divorce if I bring one more thing into this house ... but hey, I'll risk it. Old stamps for something new ... how exciting!"
In case you've just remembered you might have some stamps stashed somewhere, here's the number to call for Gold Bond Stamp Company in Honolulu: 536-4343.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or firstname.lastname@example.org.