There is an interesting fascination with idea of getting something free.
A storm is brewing over fast food restaurants offering free toys inside of kid's meals. Occasionally, I will order a kids meal because it is cheaper and is just enough food. I am not buying it because a 2-inch toy from the latest hit movie is inside. In fact, the toy usually ends up with the hamburger wrapper in the trash can.
But all this is not new.
I was listening last week to a recording of an early 1950s radio show featuring Hank Williams. It was sponsored by Mother's Best flour. Hank told us that inside of every bag of Mother's Best we would find a coupon for silverware. A 5-pound bag of flour was less than 50 cents in those days. This must be some really fine silverware.
I can remember when Dolly Parton was the "gal singer" on the Porter Wagoner Show. While Porter would talk about a brand of detergent, Dolly would reach in the box and pull out a free towel. "Look at them Zinnias," Dolly would say as she pulled out the floral towel. I don't believe it was Zinnias we were looking at.
A gas station that was in the heat of a gas price war in the 1960s offered gas for 29 cents a gallon and gave you a free glass tumbler with a fill-up. The guy also pumped the gas for you and checked under the hood. I paid nearly 10 times that amount last week and stood out in a brisk wind and pumped it myself. I didn't get a free anything.
Furniture stores were always in the bonus gift business. There was a guy who called himself "Cousin Jim" at the Big Red Furniture Barn who offered a "good" used car or a pony for just 9 cents with the purchase of a room full of furniture.
This was in an era when a room full of furniture was not much more than $200. I hate to speculate on the fate of those cars, much less the ponies.
These days, furniture folks are touting a free flat-screen TV and no interest for a jillion years.
Gone, too, are the days when banks offered a free toaster or blender for just opening a savings account. Remember savings accounts? They used to pay 3 percent interest.
Funeral homes always offer a few choice freebies, usually a nice calendar or a hand fan emblazoned with a picture of Jesus and the name of the funeral home. Jesus has been the unpaid celebrity endorser for many a funeral home.
My dirty hands have delved into many a box of cereal in search of the elusive prize, usually a spyglass or a decoder ring. That's a trend that still continues today.
I know there are folks who will drive across town to get that elusive free gift being offered by ambitious merchants everywhere. It's been said that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that's true.
But you can get an annoying little toy if you try.
Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.