Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays from P&PC: The Grocer's Dream

Now that the P&PC Office has finally finished the last of its holiday shopping, barely managing to escape from the modern retail Hades of malls, long lines, and frantic customers, we thought it only fitting to give you the gift of this little advertising poem: a Christmas-Day dream featuring the Grinch of all Grinches—"a grocer, aged and grey" whose holiday fantasy is told in five eight-line stanzas on the back of a humbly produced, 3x5-inch trade card issued in the 1930s for Helwig & Leitch's "Majestic Sandwich Spread."

One in a long line of going-to-hell narratives from the early part of the century—not only did now-canonical poets like Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Sterling Brown follow in the footsteps of Homer, Virgil, and Dante, but so did lots of popular poems (see the image here, for example), which had everyone from the Kaiser to FDR to Hitler going to (or getting kicked out of) the underworld—this poem takes place when an angel of God escorts the grocer to Heaven only to stop along the way for a view of Hades. And that view is the best Christmas present the grocer can get: "It's the hottest place in hell, / Where the ones who never paid you / In torment always dwell."

But instead of getting consigned to hell, or kicked out of hell, or managing to escape the Best Buy fires of Hades like P&PC did, the grocer chooses to stay. He grabs a chair and a fan, sits down, and starts to enjoy the show. The angel bids him go:

But [the grocer] was bound to sit and watch them
As they'd sizzle, singe and burn:
And as his eyes would rest on debtors
Whichever way they'd turn.
Said the angel: "Come on, grocer,
There's the pearly gates to see."
The grocer only muttered:
"This is Heaven enough for me."

It's kind of funny that Helwig & Leitch—a former patent medicine maker that filed federal trademark registration for Majestic on July 25, 1929, just weeks before the stock-market crash—would throw its middleman under the bus like this. According to records, though, Helwig & Leitch described its category of specialty as including the following: food-flavoring extracts, worchestershire sauce, horseradish, spices, vinegar, prepared mustard, mustard and horse-radish, fruit preserves, jellies, peanut butter, cherries in jars, olives, pickles, tomato catsup, mayonnaise dressing, barbecue relish of vegetables, sweet pimiento relish of vegetables, and sandwich spread of oil, eggs, vegetables, salt. In other words, it sounds like they'd mix, boil down, beat to a spreadable pulp, can, and preserve just about anything they could get their hands on—including the neighborhood grocer. Come to think of it, that's just about how P&PC feels after being processed by the mall this week. Here's to hoping that you've fared better than we have. Our best wishes for a happy, restorative holiday.

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