Uncle Mort on the Prowl

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

My phone pulsated with excitement that could be attributed to my Uncle Mort’s recent spate of news, both good and bad.

I asked for the good news first.

“You ain’t gonna believe this, nephew, but I went into the swamp last night looking for cases of Monkey Pox, and things got really strange.” Had he been penning a letter instead of sputtering on the phone, he would have run out of exclamation points.

Uncle Mort

I pressed the phone hard against my ear, intrigued by details of yet another unlikely adventure. After all, analyses of the old guy have ranged from seriously eccentric to borderline certifiable. (One of his pessimistic neighbors said, “As long as he’s out, I don’t think they’ll lock him up, but if they ever lock him up, they aren’t likely to let him out.”) Still, I was fascinated about his search for cases of the strange new disease.

Mort said he slipped out of bed soon after midnight, pulling on his waders after strapping on a pair of overalls Maude had planned to wash in the first load at the break of day.

Mort awakened Jughead, his dog “with the best sniffer.” Off they went toward the swamp, Jughead bored stiff for a couple of hours. Soon after 2 a.m., though, Jughead barked vigorously. “His tail wagging and his nose buried, he had made a find,” Mort continued.

“I started digging with a little shovel they had on close-out at the army surplus store,” Mort said, “My excavation didn’t reveal a single case of Monkey Pox, but Dame Fortune was with us.”

He then screamed in all CAPS. Two feet down, the shovel pinged against a metal container.

Inside–hermetically sealed and ready to gulp–were four cases of baby formula.

And that’s not all. Also inside the container were 20 books of S&H Green Stamps. In perfect condition, the stamps were carefully affixed to each page.

Mort said he carefully extracted the baby formula and trading stamps, eager to fire up his computer and place his two “finds” up for bid.

It sounded like good news to me, even if “blind hog luck” seemed to be in play.

“I knew you’d want to know, nephew,“ he stammered. “And be assured that I intend to word the auction ad with greatest care.”

He plans to emphasize that the baby formula is still in date, even if the S&H Green Stamps aren’t.

Mort will use the smallest ad type to hide one detail. The only redemption center he may have located is about 150 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska, accessible only by dogsled and open only during afternoons on the first and third Mondays of each month.

Mort knows that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but doesn’t realize that knowing too much can quickly become catastrophic.

Had he stayed on the trail researching S&H Green Stamps, he would have learned that they were popular from the 1890s until the mid-1980s, but for the last 15 years of the 20th century, not so much. He might also have learned that at their peak, they were collected by 80 percent of American households, with more S&H Green Stamps printed than U.S. postage stamps for several years.

Further findings might have revealed that the giant promotional firm–founded by a couple of merchants named Sperry and Hutchinson–had several new owners and name changes when public interest began to slide. To their credit, the successive owners went to great lengths to keep redemption centers open, doing so until the last one closed in October 2020.

Leave it to Uncle Mort to find a way to market unredeemed Green Stamp books.

He might bluster about them being “collectors’ items.”

It’s unlikely that he will reveal the guy’s name on social media who claims to know so much about the alleged Alaskan redemption center. Could an internet “source” run afoul of truth?

   Dr. Newbury, longtime university president, writes weekly and continues to speak throughout Texas. Contact: 817-447-3872. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Facebook: Don Newbury. Twitter: @donnewbury

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