Anyone remember the old saying “as slow as molasses in January”?

If you’ve ever picked blackberries, you understand that it is tough to go into a briar patch with a 3-gallon bucket, at least it is for me.

I have always preferred to leave my big bucket outside the patch and take a much smaller container into the thicket. I’ll fill that and then empty it into the big bucket.

What does picking blackberries have to do with molasses? Well, the small container I usually used when I was growing up was either a half-gallon or a gallon molasses bucket.

Those were handy little containers, made of tin with sturdy wire handles, and they could be put to any number of uses, from picking blackberries to getting up the eggs to carrying water.

There were only two brands of molasses that were sold in stores in my area when I was growing up—King Syrup and Karo Syrup.

We always bought King Syrup (with the head of a lion on the label) for two reasons. First, King Syrup was sweeter than Karo Syrup and second, Karo Syrup had no wire handle on the bucket.

I have no idea the last time I saw anyone make a molasses sandwich, but they were common back when I was a child, especially among the poorer country people. A good layer of King Syrup between two slices of bread made a nice, sweet lunch.

But some people could even mess up a molasses sandwich. While visiting a neighbor with my grandparents once, I remember getting hungry. The lady of the house made me a molasses sandwich with stale cornbread. Yuck! I never got hungry in that house again.

We live in a disposable society, but years ago, few practical items were thrown away. Companies understood this and sold items—such as tin molasses buckets with handles—that could be used over and over.

Hog feed and chicken feed often came in white sacks with flowered prints. Women would clean the empty sacks and make aprons or even dresses with the cloth.

Some of the sacks (most feed came in 100-pound bags back then) were just perfect for pillowcases. But even if they were a little big for the pillow, they were used anyway. Nothing was wasted.

Feed companies changed their patterns every so often to promote sales. Women would often go into the feed room to select sacks of their choice.

Some companies also added free gifts to the products they sold. For instance, no one bought washcloths or towels at the store back then. They came free in boxes of washing powder.

A washcloth was included in a small box of soap, a hand towel in a medium box and a larger towel in a giant box.

Companies really didn’t lose money with this deal, because the washcloth or towel displaced soap powder in the box. You got a gift, but much less washing powder.

Other companies quickly followed suit. I remember getting glasses and small bowls out of oatmeal boxes. Again, there was the misconception that you were getting something free, but in reality, you were just getting less product in exchange for a mass-produced trinket.

Still, middle-class Americans, especially folks in the country, jumped at the chance to get something for nothing. Some of the glasses were a bit gaudy and many were never used. But they were free. And companies prospered because these freebies sold product.

It was the same for kids who bought Cracker Jacks. You got a toy in the box and that was exciting. And then there were Mallo Cups, which contained cards with points that could be traded for gifts or more candy or something.

These candy promotions were just gimmicks, of course, and kids seldom got any benefit from them. But getting a 100-point Mallo Cup card was like finding a gold nugget in a stream.

The older generation, however, did make use the free washcloths, towels and glassware.

And flowered feed sacks were prized.

Even burlap bags were reusable and feed mills paid a dime or some other small amount to get them back.

Let us not forget pop bottles, which brought 2 cents when returned to the store. Empty bottles kept many kids in candy or ice cream.

Glass milk bottles were also returned and reused.

Now we throw it all (mostly plastic) away, but there was a time when anything that could be reused was reused.

And in those days, there was more than Tide in a Tide box.

Then there were those King Syrup cans, which had many uses after the molasses were gone.

Those were different times.

Donnie Johnston:

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