In my most recent post, I introduced the topic of Palmer’s Big Star, which has been in operation on Main St. in east Tupelo since the 1950s.
The mention of the store brought back a wave of memories, remarkable only if you view Palmer’s Big Star as simply a grocery store. It was that, of course, the place where everybody bought their bread and vegetables and meat. But it was much more, sort of a community gathering place.
There were several things that emerged from the dusty corridors of my memory at the mention of Palmer’s Big Star.
One of them was Quality Stamps.
Quality Stamps were trading stamps that you could collect and then redeem at a little “redemption center’’ located on South Gloster Street. As best I can tell, Quality Stamps were circulated primarily in what is referred to as the “Mid-South,’’ - Memphis and the surrounding areas of north Mississippi, west Tenneesee and east Arkansas. You may be familiar with S&H Green Stamps, which were more widely circulated. Well, Quality Stamps operated under a similar fashion.
At Palmer’s, you got a certain number of Quality Stamps for each dollar you spent on groceries. My recollection is not perfect on this point, but I seem to recall that the stamps had different values, sort of like currency. Mama was a devoted collector. Woe be it to the person who, having made a quick trip to Palmer's, did not return with her Quality Stamps.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table, licking those stamps and pasting them into the little booklets that, when filled with stamps, you could take to the redemption center. The redemption center looked much like any other retail store, as I recall. You could redeem your stamps for a wide variety of products, from house-wares to toys and games.
Mama being very practical, always used the stamps to buy something useful and sensible - pots, pans, small appliances, that sort of thing.
The one extravagant use of the stamps came when mama relented to my pleas to buy a popcorn popper. I remember pointing it out on the shelf. Mama was skeptical. We had a big pan to pop the popcorn with that had worked perfectly fine for years, after all.
But the popcorn popper was pretty cool, she had to admit. The popper plugged into a wall outlet and a big, clear plastic dome fit over the appliance. The dome was designed to be used as the bowl after the popcorn was popped. The popper had a non-stick surface, with a little metal arm that rotated around the surface to keep the un-popped kernels moving around to avoid sticking and ensure that all the kernels popped.
Mama still failed to see the need for such a device, but I suspect she thought of all the time I spent licking those stamps at the kitchen table and relented.
That night, a bunch of the neighborhood kids came over to watch the popcorn popper work its magic. Then we sat down at watched Jerry Lewis on “Saturday Night at the Movies’’ on TV.
Quality Stamps weren’t the only way to profit from a strip to Palmer’s Big Star, though. The store also featured “Let’s Go To The Races!’’ That turned out to be my first exposure to horse racing. Here’s how it worked:
With your purchase, you were given “betting slips’’ that featured the number of a horse and corresponding race. Again, the number of slips you received were based on your purchase amounts.
Each Saturday afternoon, we would pile our betting slips on the coffee table, sort them by the race and watch and watch the simulcast on the local TV station. Of course, it wasn’t really a simulcast, though. It was a re-run of a simulcast from races as such exotic tracks as Santa Anita, Gulf Stream, Belmont, etc.
In theory, if you had the winning horse, you could redeem your winning slip for cash. Again, I’m vague on the amount of money you could win. It turned out to be a moot point, anyway. We never won, although it seemed like we always had the “Place’’ horse. Of course, you didn’t win any money in the “Let’s Go To The Races!’’ for the Place or Show horses. Still, it was a thrill to have something riding on a race.
I suppose there were other grocery stores that featured Quality Stamps and “Let’s Go To The Races!’’ But Palmer’s was the only store I know of that had a Mynah bird.
At least, they had a Mynah bird for a while.
It was kept in a big cage near the store office and was a magnet for all the kids who accompanied their mama to the store. You had to be careful, though, because he was a temperamental old bird and had been known to take a nip at little fingers that were poked into his cage. We learned that pretty quick, so it never was much of a problem.
Unfortunately, though, the bird developed some unsavory habits that would eventually lead to his demise.
For one thing, he learned to whistle, which delighted the kids. Of course, it was a “wolf whistle,’’ a long, somehow lewd whistle that you normally associated with construction workers when a slender woman walks by in a short skirt.
The sensible, well-mannered women who patronized Palmer’s were decidedly not THAT sort of women, so when they walked by the bird and got the “wolf whistle,’’ it was mildly scandalous and deeply embarrassing.
The bird might have survived this indiscretion had he not picked up another bad habit.
Namely, he expanded his vocabulary to include a variety of curse words.
I do not know who taught the bird those particular words, although I do have my suspicions. I figure it was Buddy Palmer, who had the sort of irreverent personality that made him a likely suspect. But I could be wrong about that.
What I do know is that the Mynah bird soon disappeared. I don’t know what happened to him. If you know, clue me in, OK?
Another thing that distinguished Palmer’s Big Star was its link toboth Rock-n-Roll and Law Enforcement immortality. I’ll have to save that for next time, though.
Today is the best day of the year in racing and the horses are at the post for the Breeders Cup Marathon.