Wall calendars and almanacs used to cover the counters of stores and banks at year's end, and customers came to rely on the freebies.
Pocket-size loyalty oaths from seed and fertilizer suppliers bulged from plaid, flannel shirt pockets in all 48 states.
Ah, for those simple days again, before cell phones rattled off appointments, before Justin Bieber. Bear with me; I'll explain.
In an earlier day, jagged mountain ranges and exotic rain forests joined kittens and eagles in 30-day rotations across the chimneys, cupboards and classrooms of America. The make of the car in the driveway almost certainly was reflected above a desk or buffet. Greetings from the insurance agent hung precariously close to the match dispenser above the wood stove or gas range.
The brand markers were as free as they were obligatory.
But a check of Thomson businesses on New Year's Eve found that many no longer offer calendars. Some said gadgets are offering better ways to mark appointments. Others just cited the economy and the need to provide more core-business services. Even some store managers who do offer the freebies say they've had to limit the number per customer.
TSC wasn't giving away tractor calendars but did have them for sale, according to Assistant Manager Robert Cheely. He'll probably still be smiling next week when I confess that my campaign came up empty and I return to buy a John Deere green calendar.
But first I scoured Thomson businesses. Floyd Bessinger of Lincoln County was boiling peanuts in the TSC parking lot, where he also was selling honey, citrus and greens. Asked whether he had had requests for John Deere or kitten calendars with the Floyd's Boiled Peanuts label, he replied, "Not as I know of."
He added, "I used to run an auto service business, and I had them there. You'd give them one whether they wanted it or not," he said. "Most of them took it anyway."
Checks with three Thomson auto parts stores revealed that only O'Reilly Auto Parts still hands out calendars, and its pad of classic car photos is intended primarily for corporate customers, according to Assistant Manager Eric Colrud.
Outside a nearby store, Roger Ladow said, "This store's not giving away anything." He had just paid $50 for a four-wheeler battery.
Thomson Middle School seventh-grader Kayla LaDow had just received a Justin Bieber calendar from a cousin for Christmas, and she was OK with that. She made it sound like quite a find. I asked if she would consider trading it for an O'Reilly Auto Parts classic-car model, intended primarily for corporate customers.
"You ain't getting my Justin Bieber calendar," said Miss LaDow, in a tone that basically settled the matter.
I had to know more about Mr. Bieber. I checked with my best friend. Like me, she knows about Perry Como and the other great singers, but she also knows the new ones, such as Phil Collins. She said this Mr. Bieber seems to be a singer and has quite a following. "He could use a really good haircut," she said.
I tracked him online and found he has the potential to be the next Anson "Potsie" Williams. But how much respect can you have for a fellow who leaves Canada and Robin's Donuts just to find fame and wealth in the Lower 48?
I raised the calendar and Bieber questions again at Walgreens. Customer service representative Jennifer Beckum said she would have bought a John Deere calendar if it had been available, and her daughter, Megan, would have bought any Bieber calendars.
Thomson senior Katelyn Ivey pointed the way to the Walgreens calendar rack but said she had not been looking for a John Deere or Bieber calendar. "I had Bieber fever for a while, but not anymore," she said, laughing.
The best trove of calendars I chanced upon was at Rentown, where store manager Brandon Cummings opened a box of 120.
"We just got them yesterday," he said. I asked him whether it's OK for me to send all of Thomson to line up for the freebies, and he said, "I wouldn't be angry."
His competitor Montay Washington at Rent-A-Center said he had no paper calendars available. "I use my phone; I'm good," he said.
I reminded him that free calendars were once as common as pocket protectors. "Yeah, back in the day," he said.
At Great Wall, the proprietor would not give me her name, but she did offer to give me her very last calendar, which she took from the wall. "No, thank you," I said, "I was just asking."
But that gesture was the best result of an afternoon of fun conversation.
My search led me to bank managers, who explained why calendars have been sacrificed, and I found a few offices still handing out calendars like popcorn.
No one still practices the tradition like Charles G. Newton II, who is known as "Wormie." Over at McDuffie Feed & Seed, he was giving out pig calendars, horse calendars, almanacs and refrigerator calendars. The practice is especially generous given Mr. Newton's belief that life as we know it will end by midyear. Never mind, he will sell you a root cellar and you can tack up your pig calendars below ground level.
I did not quiz Mr. Wormie about Mr. Bieber, or vice versa. But I'll make a note to do so in the year ahead. As you know, the year is young.