The Store…

Posted on October 29, 2010


Chapter 4.  The Store©

David and his cousin Paul were groomed to take over their grandfather’s department store. Gramp said they were a good combination – Paul was good with numbers and David was good with people.

When they were still in public school the boys started worked after school and Saturdays, starting at the bottom and working their way up.

The store had four stories including the basement. The basement housed the grocery and meat departments, plus space for unpacking and storing inventory, the window decorator’s workshop and of course the furnace room and coal bins.

Before he was old enough to work at the store David would treat his current best friend – Glenny Warren –  to a tour of  “The Basement.” First a sneak visit to the storage area of the grocery department filling their pockets with shelled almonds and gumdrops Then through long dark corridors to the furnace room to see one-eyed Mr. Shulack covered in coal dust. He perpetually rubbed the back of his hand over his empty eye socked leaving it encrusted it in black soot. He’d swing open the great furnace doors to the roaring inferno then grab David’s friend pretending to throw him to the flames. Glenny’s shirt bearing Mr. Shulack’s dirty finger prints became a badge of honor.

Finally it was on to the window decorator’s studio to see Garth Dalton, stooped shoulders and pony tailed looking like a great owl with his large horn-rimmed glasses. If he was in a good mood he’d click off the lights displaying dancing skeletons painted on the walls in phosphorescent paint. He’d play pirates, sweeping up Glenny and sitting him on the drafting table, telling him that he was a king and pirates were after his gold. Garth poured a puddle of water between Glenny’s wide spread legs – that’s the ocean –  hand him a sharp letter opener – that’s your sword to slay the pirate with, here’s the pirate ship – a ruler – your job is to stab it with your sword. After Glenny made a few successful strikes at the “pirate ship” Mr. Dalton would grab him by the legs pulling him forward through the water wetting his pants.

There wasn’t enough ocean to do major damage and the next point on the tour – the meat department – captured Glenny;’ attention. The boys watched the butcher make sausages – Glenny never ate a sausage again. They were given two wieners each which served as cigars as they sauntered over to watch the afternoon double feature at the High Art Theater –the Lone Ranger and the Three Stooges.

Gracie demolished the Long Ranger for David by informing him that when Tonto addressed the Masked hero as Kemo Sabi it translated as  “Dumb White Man”.

Along with Clint and Gracie ‘The Store’ played a major part in shaping the ‘man-boy’ David would become. It generated both status and jealousy, and provided a solid future. Well it did and it didn’t.

When David turned ten his Grandfather set up a bank account for him and deposited five dollars – big bucks in those days. The deal was that Gramp would match whatever amount was in the account every year on David’s birthday. That’s when David starting ‘working’ in the store after-four and Saturdays. He started in the basement unpacking dishes from China packed in dirty, shredded paper. In minutes he was coughing, sneezing, wheezing. His handkerchief soaked he wiped his nose on his sleeve. He was allergic to the dust. But in those days allergies hadn’t been invented – you made do. Bill May, the manager of the hardware department snagged a defective bed sheet from dry goods, helping David cut it into masks. When folded double, moistened, and replaced every hour they kept out the dust – more or less.

Gracie said: “Beware, he rides forth, the Lone Ranger with asthma.”

To this day David remains allergic to dusty places. Why had it remained dormant so long? Gracie called him a whimp: “You little fake, you’re not allergic to dust you’re allergic to work!” Grandfather was more generous suggesting that it was David’s first encounter with the strange substance since not a spec of it dare enter Gram’s house.

888 to here 7-27-10 3.30pm

The dishes unpacked David moved on to assembling CCM bikes – what a joy. He bought the first bike he put together. He now had two incomes, his job at the store and a paper route. He picked up his papers at noon at Kempton’s book store and delivered them to houses conveniently located on his way home for lunch. With his bike he gradually tripled the number of customers, eventually hiring a helper.

By his birthday he’d replaced in his bank account the money spent on his bike and added a bit more. Gramp was impressed, Gracie started being nice – for brief periods -before borrowing money. They say ‘never a borrower or lender be’. Gracie borrowed but when repayment time rolled around denied the debt. Three temper tantrums later Gramp showed David how to draw up a contract, including penalties and places for witnesses to sign. After that Gracie paid – eventually – but made the process so unpleasant that David ‘cut off her line of credit.’

David’s stamp collection ‘disappeared.’

When David grew up and graduated into his shrinkdom he claimed he understood why Gracie was such a pain in the butt. First off she was fearless. David’s mother tells the story that in the middle of the night she heard a noise downstairs, wakened her husband who said it was the wind, pulled the pillow over his his head trying to get back sleep. Then they heard  three-year old Gracie at their door yelling: “There’s thumebody downsthtaires!”

She beat her dad down to what turned out be a banging shutter, earning him the family title of  “the cowardly lion.”

Not only was she fearless she decided that everybody loved David better than her. It started when their father developed TB of the bone from an old football injury and the family moved to Arizona for six months seeking a cure in the warm, dry climate. But they came home too soon; the TB returned and they had to go back the next year. Not wanting to interrupt their schooling they left Gracie and Kenny with Gram and Gramp. Gracie never forgave them.

Using shrink-talk David tells me that the separation took place at a critical period in Gracie’s development,  before she had resolved the Oedipus Complex – you know the stuff about  the daughter is in love with the father and hates the mother. So… Gracie is scarred for life because her father – her coveted lover – deserted her running off with that hussy – her mother. But the parents are too big and powerful to attack so she shifts he repressed rage to defenseless little David.

I tell David that he’s talking psychological hog poop, that Gracie is a bitch – she’s stayed with us so I know – and that people liked David better than her because he was more likeable – a bit wheezy and wimpy at times – but more likable. David said his older brother Kenny didn’t  suffer from any separation anxiety because he was only attached to refrigerators  and his baseball mitt.

But I digress.

Meanwhile down at the store, down in the basement, David is promoted to the grocery department and the tender loving care of it’s manager Mr. Ellison. Grandfather told his staff not to treat David differently from any other employee. Mr. Ellison didn’t need such instructions – he treated all his staff the same – with suspicion.

David’s job was unpacking, packaging and stacking the shelves. Mr. Ellison’s instructions were brief: “ When unpacking the bananas look out for black widow spiders – one bite and you turn rigid as a rock. No sampling. “If I catch you nibbling the almonds or gumdrops you’re fired. Here’s your white coat. Notice I’ve cut off the pockets to cut off temptation.”

Mr. Ellison showed David how to stack soup cans into a gigantic pyramid – getting the last can on the top is tricky. Mr. Ellison says you do it the same way that porcupines make love – VERY CAREFULLY.”

David told this story that night at supper. Gram was not amused. Turning to her husband she said: “So that’s the kind of thing Davey’s learning from your staff.”

During a tour of the store Mr. Ellison showed David’s grandfather the great pyramid of Libby’s Pork and Bean cans that David had built. Though priding his independence Mr. Ellison knew who signed his paychecks.

The mayor’s wife – Mrs. Pritty – and her five year old daughter Audrey came shopping. Audrey pulled out one of the cans, the pyramid collapsed, Audrey fell screeching in a sea of tumbling cans. Shaking her finger under Mr. Ellison nose Mrs. Pritty proclaimed “ the Mayor will sue!”

He didn’t, but no more pyramids.

Thereafter whenever Mr. Ellison saw Mrs. Pritty and her daughter descending the stairs to his domain he mumbled: “Goody, goody, here comes Audrey.”

That’s now become a stock phrase in our extended family. Whenever anyone sees someone approaching who they don’t like they whisper “Goody, goody, here comes Audrey.”

Glenny Warren and Joe Wheeler joined the boy scouts, said it was great so David joined too. The young scout master, Reverend Hunt, taught them good stuff, not just how to tie knots and light fires by rubbing sticks together, but how to box and wrestle. He raced around in a Ford coupe with a rumble seat and preached rousing sermons – people called him Hell Fire Hunt.

The boys went to scout camp for a week, lived in tents, had canoe races, sat around the campfire at night listening to heroic stories, and some not so heroic. When the scout master wasn’t around the camp cook – Harry Jewel – told them war stories about a bomb went off and a bloody hand – no arm attached – was blown into his new batch of noodle soup. He fished it out and nobody was the wiser , adding “Actually that soup coulda used a bit of meat.”

His last job was cooking for a  religious sect – a bunch of Holy Rollers. Harry said they were overflowing with the love of Jesus: shouting, praying, saving souls. Then Harry lowered his voice and said: “You know boys there was more souls laid than saved at that there camp.”