Walmart Layaway


It’s that time of year again. Walmart layaway!

Just when you thought it was safe to shop on every other day of the year EXCEPT that Friday after you have gorged yourself on bird, the worlds largest retailer has brought back memories of Christmas past when you could load up a cart and take it to the back of the store and pay with change you found in the couch. Well, at least figuratively.

I remember those days back in the 1970s when my mom loaded us kids up in the family truckerster and head across the river to the K-Mart store in Chesapeake, Ohio.

It was a day trip back then. It wasn’t a quick stop to the neighborhood corporate behemoth like it is today. We would almost always go with the Dunn’s from down the street…

Ah, the Dunn’s. Dovie, the mom of the clan reminds me of Janis Joplin in bellbottom cords and flip-flops. Greasy, dirty (and I mean dirty) blonde hair and breath that reeked of Virginia Slims. Her husband Scott terrified me. When I went over to “play” he was always laying on a flowered davenport encased in fabric so rough it would give you rug burn. He would lay there in his cut-off jeans shorts and nothing else. He would prop one of those tall, glass bottles of Pepsi on his wide girth of a belly.

I was smitten with Michelle. Mitchy to her friends and forlorn prepubescent suitors like me. She was a year older than I and looked like Marcia Brady to me. Well, not really. She always had a rats-nest of hair that seemed to always be tangled and she wore terry cloth sorts and tube tops and sandals with socks pulled to her knees.

Then there was Cathy. This little girl was three or four years my junior, about the same age as my brother, Ryan. This girl had a set of lungs on her like you wouldn’t believe. Every time I met her she would round the corner at the top of the stairs and start to cry that would lather into a scream. Within minutes she would embattle herself under the dining room table amongst a gaggle of half eaten Frito’s, long forgotten Legos and brussel sprout or two. She would stay there until we were long gone.

This was in West Virginia. Yes, that place. Does that not explain things? No? You have never been there then.

Back to the K-Mart adventure. As we entered this fotress of solitude, bookmarked by Waldenbooks and a Radio Shack, we entered into a world only known by those of the middle class with little discretionary income. In the 70s it was a big deal to get out. It was an even bigger deal to have to traverse the unknowns and cross state lines to get there. As we grabbed our buggy, that’s what my mom always called them, us kids scattered like flies with mom or Dovie screaming, “meet us at the cafeteria for lunch in an hour!”

Amongst omnipresent announcements of blue light specials and Victoria Principal displays, us kids grabbed toys, school supplies, jeans made in China, toothbrushes, car batteries, and bags of those disgusting orange peanut candies, onward as we rushed towards the cafeteria for lunch.

At the back of the store we all unloaded our arms of schwag into the buggies and headed around the maze of barriers to the serving line. The cafeteria was a destination when we went to K-Mart. Only on the most special occasions (ie. layaway day) would we get to eat in those hallowed halls.

I would always order the same thing: a burger with mayo and shredded lettuce. With that I would get a cold order of fries and a 16 ounce drink I still had to hold with two hands. As lunch ensued we would disgorge our experiences of the morning shopping extravaganza and patiently wait until all finished their meals.

After lunch we would head over to the layaway desk. In reality it was just a doorway on the back wall, and the clerk in her smock would tally up our wares and collect a meager deposit from mom.

As I look back on our K-Mart layaway experiences it is a funny thing. I do not ever recall ever seeing those purchases we so diligently collected again. I don’t know if they were lost in the vast warehouse in the back of the store or they just never made it home because mom didn’t have money to retrieve them from the Big K. I guess its sort of like binge drinking in college. You know what’s going on when you go in, you know what’s happening for a period of time while its going on, but you just don’t have all the facts when you are done. But, boy it sure was fun!

I think mom might of tipped the clerk-in-the-smock to just push the kids purchases aside. “We won’t be needing those,” she would whisper under her breath and she whisked away an errant feathered bang, pointing to the cap guns, matchbox cars and yes that 12-volt car battery.

So I guess I have truly come full circle. Just the other day I walked into Wally-World and headed to the back of the store. I summoned a blue-smocked clerk, who I assume was working for the company only for its generous dental insurance benefits, and asked for some help. I left empty handed but something with my name on it was left to go “in the back.”

I just hope that by December 15th I have the cash…

Have you ever used layaway? Tell us your experiences.