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The Last Windrow: A world that runs on plastic

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Everyone has read about the recent credit card hacking of one of the national retailers. It seems to be a mess for some folks. Just when you think you can trust technology, someone throws a clinker in the works.  

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I don’t ever remember a credit card hacker back in those days when cash was about the only form of currency one carried in their billfold or purse. There were no credit or debit cards. There were no pin numbers to remember or expiration dates to check on a dollar bill. There were no overdraft charges or credit scores to contend with.  

You knew exactly how much money you had to spend because you carried it with you, in person.  

Of course, the general thought was that putting things on credit was something to be avoided, if possible. About the only thing we used credit for was supplies for the farm, and even then, when we bought a load of protein feed, cash or check usually went across the counter.  

Some of that reluctance to use credit probably came from our grandparents’ experience with the Great Depression when many in the countryside who had used credit or become over-extended lost their farms. After that painful experience, many started keeping their cash under the mattress or in a can buried in the root cellar. Trust of any financial institution was hard to find.  

The little country gas station/convenience store that sat just a quarter mile from our farm did carry most of our neighbors on credit. When we stopped to fill up the tractor or buy a loaf of bread or a can of beans, we simply sauntered over to the counter, found the charge book, wrote down what we took and signed our name. Many times the owner wasn’t even in the place.

But, every month the bill was paid in full. There were no carrying charges or late fees. You didn’t want Bill Sitzman to show up on your doorstep with your charge book in hand. He had boxed and won in the Golden Gloves.  

If you didn’t pay your bill on time, you were also stared at when you went to church on Sunday. People knew.  

I remember a time when I was taken for a doctor’s appointment. When he was through with me, I watched my mother walk up to the receptionist’s window with her checkbook in hand. There were no plastic cards present.

I do remember there was a different rate if you paid by check versus having insurance pay the bill. I wondered why that was?

Whatever happened to traveler’s checks? There was a time when we all bought traveler’s checks before we went on vacation. It was a way to guard losing our cash at some far-off place. I remember buying minnows at a Minnesota resort at Charlie’s Bait Shop and using traveler’s checks to pay. The lady said she would have preferred cash, but she gritted her teeth and took my money anyway.  

Now it seems the world runs on plastic. I was at a restaurant last year when I offered to pay for our meal with cash. The pleasant lass who stood behind the counter looked at my $50 bill and told me they didn’t take cash, could I pay with a card? What? Cash was out? Credit or debit was in?  

I felt a sudden chill trickle down my spine as I stuffed the $50 back in my wallet.  

So, now we have people hacking into credit card accounts and causing all kinds of havoc. I hear there may be a foolproof way to guard these pieces of plastic and it had better come soon.

Otherwise, we’ll all be stuffing our mattresses and burying our cash in a coffee can in the root cellar.  

See you next time. Okay?

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