The Cult…

A few years after we moved to Michigan, I was given a gift from my good friend and neighbor. Diane has exquisite taste, and has always been someone who truly tries to find the ‘perfect’ gift for people in her life. No simple gift card and Happy Birthday wish in an email or posted on Facebook from her. She takes her time picking out the right card. Puts so much effort in all she does. From landscaping, to sewing, to decorating her house, there’s always a little extra pizazz with her.

My corn candy Longaberger basket. A gift from Diane…

The gift? A small, darling basket shaped like a Brach’s piece of corn candy. (By then she knew me well enough to know I was addicted to corn candy). The cloth lining of basket was patterned corn candy. So I’ve had this basket over 20 years. Normally I’d say, each fall when the stores put out stuff for Halloween, but stores no longer run a ‘real’ calendar year anymore. Swimsuits are out in January, gruesome winter coats will be hanging on circular racks while the temperatures are still hovering in the 90’s. (Yes, the world has gone mad). Rest assured, Brach’s (it must be Brach’s for corn candy and circus peanuts. I have high standards with the empty calories in my life) corn candy will be out with the back-to-school-specials in July.

Napkin Longaberger basket and basket of notepads of vital importance…

And just like that, I was hooked on Longaberger Baskets. Diane’s house was chuck full of carefully placed, crafty, seasonal Longaberger baskets. But all looking super casual, warm and inviting. How come I could never pull this off? She just has a knack for this kind of shit. I fill my corn candy basket with-duh-corn candy and slap it on an old ecru doily. Diane takes a 3 foot Longaberger wrought iron Santa, fills it with a baskets of assorted pine cones, another with Christmas decorations and the third graduated sized opening with handmade bows of every Christmas color and pattern ribbon known to mankind. Makes me tired to walk into her house. I can slap my Christmas tree up in a couple hours and call it good. It takes Diane a week to decorate her house. And boy does it show. But enough on my inadequacies and her super hero decorating abilities. Suffice it to say, Diane got me hooked on Annalee’s (hard to describe, they are wool felt animals and people who look very strange), Longaberger Baskets, Lennox, and canning in general. It’s her recipe I use for Bread & Butter Pickles.

This is an Annalee. Quirky, I have many for holidays. Family hates them…

Back to those stinking baskets. They were pricey things and I couldn’t buy one very often, but buy them I did. A picnic basket (I’ve never, ever used it as such), a covered basket that holds 2 pies because you just never know when I need to bring 2 pies somewhere. A recipe box (my favorite and crammed full), tiny baskets to hold ink pens, flat baskets to hold magazines. It just ever ends. I’d say I have at least 20. Sitting around on the floor, counter or on antiques. Some holding absolutely nothing and of no good use whatsoever.

Relegated to the basement. Each holds absolutely nothing…

During the height of my frenzied collecting, Shannon bought into the whole Longaberger pyramid scheme right along with me. By this time we were living in North Muskegon. Lo and behold, there were Longaberger dealers all over town. Oh for cripe’s sake. My dealer was Mary, a friendly, outgoing super saleswoman. A couple times a year Mary would host an open house with soups, dips, chips, recipes, retired baskets that you couldn’t get anywhere on the black market. Oh for the love of pete. Now the Longaberger family was no longer content with just baskets either. They saw dollar signs and fleshed out their business. Cha-Ching. Next on their agenda was a line of pottery dishes, linens, packaged foods and dips which just required a couple of additional ingredients. This was an enormous-growing-thriving-making-money-hand-over fist-business. And I was just doing my share. I am here to help capitalism. Sigh. It would take me a long time to finally stop the majority of gathering more shit that I had a place to put it. I’m much more conscious of the choices I make when buying something that I really don’t need now. Also a lot older and realize I don’t need more ‘stuff’ in my life, nor do I have the room. Or money, frankly.

Even worse, down with my canning equipment. Lacking counter space-seriously…

Must be about 15 years ago because Landon was on the scene but Peyton was not. I’m going to blame Shannon for this huge snafu in our lives since I’m doing the writing. I think we both regularly received Longaberger sale flyers and tidbit updates on the entire Longaberger family. One of these brochures offered a bus trip to Dresden, Ohio. Why might you wonder? To be enlightened by all things Longaberger. For an entire weekend. Be still my heart. Shannon asked if I’d be interested in going on the trip with her? It sounded like fun. Giddy we were, I tell you. Breakfast was served on the bus-in our own Longaberger basket. To keep forever. Two cozy nights in a nice hotel, a jaunt into the nearby town where all businesses were out to make money off the Longaberger name. None of the local businesses were allowed to sell baskets, but they all had knock-off liners, trims etc.

Three highlights of the weekend were LUNCH WITH TAMI. Yes, the real Tami (flesh and blood daughter of Dave) Longaberger. For an extra 25 bucks per plate, we could dine with Tami, utilizing all of the grandest Longaberger pottery dinnerware. Heck, who could say no to that? (Lambs to the slaughter). Another highlight was a Saturday night auction where if we had enough money, we could bid on certain baskets available NO WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD. Lordy. The third was a trip to the actual factory. For a mere 25 bucks, we could pick out one of several basket patterns, make one ourselves (with help from a worker earning overtime for working on Saturday) and put our own spin on the color stain we chose, liner and trim package. It was more time consuming deciding these options than the time I spent picking out my new Jeep.

My favorite and often used recipe basket…

We filled out the pertinent information application, sent in our checks-and just like that we became part of a cult. (Similar to Jim Jones and his Kool-aid family). First our bus-mates. Deranged lot. For some of them, this was their 8th, 9th or 10th year in a ROW trucking down to Dresden for the weekend. Doing the same shit every time. Huh? Shannon and I were bored, befuddled, confused, and a little scared before we hit Ohio. We did so many eye rolls to each other during that miserable weekend, for the following two weeks only the whites of our eyes were visible.

Probably the scariest or spookiest moment of the weekend came as we were hopping off the bus at the factory to make our own basket. First a word about the factory. The building was designed in the likeness of the medium Market Basket. I. Kid. You. Not. Seven stories tall, 180,000 square feet building that looked exactly like a basket.

No I’m not kidding. This is the Longaberger factory…

Anyway we’re all shuffling along in a long line (I think there were 2 freaking bus loads of folks from West Michigan that weekend-and most chose to make their own personal basket to bring home-us included). We’re pretty far back in the line to the front door when suddenly the line just stops. This resembled a comedy sketch. One of the tour guides stopped the line, so every person got rear ended. Why? Because there were a set of shoe prints in the cement that required our undivided attention. These had been the feet (in the shoes) of Dave Longaberger. The founder of Longaberger Baskets. Bowed heads, a quick biography of the dude who started it all and a moment of silence. I believe I snickered. Shannon poked me, then she chuckled. We both bit our lips hard enough to draw blood. Between the 2 of us we were about one cackle from being hauled to jail. Blasphemy.

We tried. We really did. But neither of us ever bought into the sacredness of the whole Longaberger holiness thing. They’re just baskets. Yes, very nice, but pricey and not practical. We tried not to offend anyone who was ga-ga about what they were experiencing (Dave’s shoe prints in cement!) for the weekend, whether it was their first or 15th trip. But neither Shannon nor I were about to drink from that odd shaped basket pitcher of Kool aid that weekend or ever after. Out of the 100 or so in our group (we were not the only group tour that weekend either. There were several more groups which is probably why I never got to personally talk with Tami at my cozy lunch with her, which numbered about 250 people that day). An odd weekend to say the least, but something Shannon and I still talk and laugh about on occasion. Then we quickly look over our shoulders to make sure no one’s overhead us. It left an impression for sure. Most of the cult worshippers were just so serious. We noticed we were being scrutinized and judged on our lack of sincerity. By the time the bus was leaving for home on Sunday, we were virtually outcasts. Shunned. On the outside looking in. But not too close-cause most of them were some kind of crazy basket cases…

Yeah, I put my phone in this basket when I’m in the bedroom….

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