The day after Thanksgiving has been dubbed Black Friday by retailers. This term has been twisted into a pretzel of shopping frenzy, even to the point of bedlam. Wikipedia and other online sources insist that the phrase became popular because the day after Thanksgiving was the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Wikipedia—perhaps a contributor too young to have experienced the facts—gathered other online information to validate the article. My father would have said hogwash! The generation before him spoke the somber words when referring to the nineteenth-century gold market crash.
Merchant bookkeepers, literally keepers of financial transactions, recorded the sales and expenses in ledgers. The most common was blue cloth with the texture of heavy linen. The spine was Symth Sewn with the outward corners protected from daily use with triangles of leather. The pages were divided by lines and columns where daily income and expenses were handwritten in the appropriate columns. The columns were tallied down, then across to the right. (FYI: This is where the phrase “Bottom Line” originated.) If expenses outweighed income, the bookkeeper wrote that final number in red. Back then, it was said that the bookkeeper put away the red pen the day after Thanksgiving.
My mother knew nothing of Black Friday. She began her Christmas shopping in the late summer during the grape cutting season or the early fall when cotton picking was plentiful. Long before credit cards when cash was king, she used the layaway program. Back then, no merchant would dare display Christmas items before Thanksgiving, but she didn’t wait for snowmen to be painted on wide glass display windows or silver tinsel to be draped over ornaments hung on Christmas trees. She searched the stores for gifts early. She used the layaway plan to pay fifty cents down and an equal amount every week until December. If she had postponed her purchase until the holiday shopping season, dolls for two girls would have been an unaffordable amount of one dollar every week. She guarded that palm-size layaway card with the diminishing balance handwritten by the store clerk after each payment. Mama paid the last half-dollar while we were at school or playing with neighbors and hid the dolls until Christmas.
Papa kept a ledger of family expenses down to the last nickel—perhaps the last penny. He wrote everything with an indelible pencil that turned to purple ink when he touched it to his tongue. He paid cash for everything. He didn’t Christmas shop and pretended not to know about Mama’s layaways paid out from her earnings money. That kept his books in the black—purple—every day of the year.