Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 8

February 21 -27, 2002

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Necessity never made a good bargain.
— Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790

How true, Ben. Those words remain applicable a couple of hundred years later — even, if you’ll allow me, put another way:

A good bargain is necessary.

Today, we live at a time when a good bargain is necessary to do business. No bargain, no sale. Simple as that.

Here in the age of the 2000s, we’re in a market when everything is on sale, everything is a bargain. One hardly knows what the manufacturer’s, the tradesman’s, the craftsman’s original price was intended to be.

It’s sale, sale, sale, bargain, bargain, bargain — and especially at this time of year. A hundred or two years down the road, mid-February won’t be looked upon as the birth dates of two of our greatest presidents but as the time of year when one can get the bargain of all bargains.

Consumers will be asking “George who? Abraham who? Pass me the ads, the flyers, look at this commercial. Grab the credit cards, and let’s go.”

Fishing’s Sale of Sales
I was thinking about this the other morning when, at the Earleigh Heights Fire Hall up here in North County, the Pasadena Sports Fishing Group was holding its annual Flea Market of long standing. I arrived five minutes before the advertised 8am opening to find, outside the station, lines longer than those back at the height of World War II, when merchants had gotten in a supply of silk stockings, butter or cigarettes.

The parking lot at Earleigh Heights was jammed, and there were long lines of cars parked alongside the road. Fishermen and other bargain hunters — some of whom came to buy, only to re-sell later at a profit elsewhere — were standing three abreast in two formations several hundred feet long of men, women and children.

In the World of Fishing, it was the sale of sales. Nowhere else on the East Coast is there such a sales phenomenon — or so many anxious to cram inside to jostle and grab the best bargain before someone else did.

They Could Be Fishing
The day was bright and sunny and quite warm for winter — and there were fish to be caught if one chose to be on the water. Hungry pickerel in the Magothy, the Severn, bass in ponds and the Potomac, rockfish on a catch-and-release basis in the Chesapeake, perch in the tributaries, crappies in ponds and rivers. In some ponds, trout had to be delivered early because the extended drought has made hatchery waters so low that fish can hardly swim in them.

But few were fishing for any of them on this bright, sunshiney day. Fishermen from miles around came to fish for something else. A battered old rod and reel with rotting line that hung in the garage unused for a decade, or perhaps a new Bomber jig for sea trout at a price of about half of what it would cost in a tackle shop were figured to be better catches than a 28-inch pickerel — or a 44-inch rockfish that had to go back, like the one reported in the Bay recently.

It was fitting, I thought, that the Pasadena group holds its big flea market in mid-February — and not just because that’s when anglers get serious about stocking up, preparing for the fishing just ahead. It’s that time of year when we are about to, or at least should be about to, observe the birthday of George Washington, the father of the good old USA.

Selling Out Honest George and Abe
As we said some lines back, Washington’s birthday is better known among many for its zany sales than for the man who led a rag-tag army to win our independence from Great Britain, then went on to become our first president.

When I was a kid in New England in the Great Depression, students looked forward to Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, and not for sales. Few had money to spend at sales, but both days meant no school. So we knew the dates of both because we could romp and play, which was much better than doing arithmetic in a classroom or perhaps carrying wood into the schoolhouse to feed the pot-bellied stove next to the teacher’s desk.

In more recent years, the observance of those two birthdays has been lumped together on a date we call Presidents Day, which this year fell on Monday, February 18. Some schools didn’t even close. Instead of giving two days off, those that close do so for only one day under the combination formula. Most workers work as usual — at least those who don’t take the day off to flock to the profusion of sales.

History 101
How much have sales gained the spotlight at the expense of our nation’s heritage? Let me ask this: What is the date of Washington’s birthday? Lincoln’s?

George Washington was born at 10am on February 22, 1732 — though by the old-style calendar of the time the date was February 11. His birthplace was at the family estate on the south bank of the Potomac River near the mouth of Pope’s Creek, Westmoreland County, Virginia.

Abraham Lincoln was born at dawn on February 12 in a dirt-floor, one-room log cabin three miles south of Hodgenville, in Hardin (now Larue) County, Kentucky.

Figure this. Washington’s birthday was February 22 or 11 depending on the calendar you choose; Lincoln’s was February 12. Today’s society lumps them together on February 18 this year. Next year it will be different, as it was last year, because the observance has to be on a Monday so government employees and some others can have a long weekend off. And the sales.

If you guessed both birthdays right, chances are you are of middle to old age. I venture that few of the younger generation, especially those still in school, got one of the birthdays right. We tend to blame the schools.

But, much of the blame lies with us — those of us who have allowed merchants, politicians, those who want long weekends and others to virtually erase two of our nation’s most important dates from the calendar, proclaiming instead a Presidents Day, the occasion for sales, sales, sales.

Hey, when we were kids, think of how we would have felt had our parents told us they weren’t about to celebrate our birthdays on the exact dates of our births. Instead we’d be lumped together with Aunt Nellie and sister Ruth, whose birthdays are in the same month. We’d be sharing the spotlight in one birthday bash encompassing all, and gifts would be fewer and less costly because observance of all three birthdays would be at once.

Poor Washington, a wealthy farmer who shared the hardships of his Continental Army in winter at places like Valley Forge to win our independence when he could have lived on as a wealthy landowner. Poor Honest Abe, who was poor and suffered greatly to preserve our Union and to free the slaves. Both are increasingly pushed to obscurity as their birth dates are relegated to the occasion of the biggest sales of the year.

No days off from some schools, most work places are busy, no fireworks. Just the ringing of cash registers. Tell me, is something wrong here? If you know the answer, it’s not a question. Enough said …

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly