Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas, Ronco, and Me

Visualize this: a diverse assortment of Ronco merchandise adorning endcaps at all Woolworth-Woolco stores, Osco drugs, and other fine retailers. Add to this snapshot from the past, Ronco television commercials running 24/7 in the weeks leading up to Christmas, featuring everything from Mr. Microphone to the Egg Scrambler to the Smokeless Ashtray. Actually, I would be hard-pressed to conjure up another company in all of human history that had something for everyone on Christmas lists. Ronco rocked.

Fast forward more than three decades and Ronco, sadly, is in the ash heap of entrepreneurial history, as are many of the exclusive stores that sold its merchandise. And so we are left with only fond Ronco-inspired Christmas memories. I purchased a few Ronco products in my day, but one in particular stands out—the Bottle and Jar Cutter. For some reason, I had become fixated on the idea of getting this thing for my father and introducing him to a brand new and exciting hobby. He had been heavily into decoupage in the early 1970s and a prolific plaque maker. Many of his creations, in fact, endure in people’s homes to this day. But by the late 1970s, this one-time hobby of his had run its course, and I reasoned he needed another creative venue to occupy his free time. I honestly thought he might get into bottle and jar cutting. I imagined him turning all kinds of empty glass bottles and jars into candy dishes, decorative bowls, and terrariums. So many things came in glass bottles and jars back then—everything from sodas to cooking oils to peanut butters—and, too, there was no such thing as recycling. So, I thought turning a lot of empty bottles and jars into something cool and special made perfect sense.

To make a long story short, the Ronco Bottle and Jar Cutter was a monumental bust as a Christmas gift. For some reason, it was met with outright hostility. And there is a lesson here concerning the art of gift giving, wasting money, and all of that. But my biggest regret regarding the Ronco Bottle and Jar Cutter is that I didn’t just take it back and hold on to it in its original box. At least then I could have it on display on my end table now, or possibly even have sold it on eBay ten years ago for a tidy profit. But then again, I was an idealistic youth who merely wanted my father to create a trailblazing line of late-1970s recession glass.

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