Friday, March 26, 2010

Going From Room To Room”

DeAnn Louise Daigle AWW 3/20/10

The store was downstairs. The front faced the road, which was never paved. Mom blamed the lack of business to that fact. It seems the town had voted on paving the other road, the one that led directly over the bridge in Soldier Pond. Across that bridge were three more stores to choose from. Our end of the village only had the one store. We still supplied several families – even those up the hill that led to a fork with Eagle Lake going south and Fort Kent going north. We were situated just east of both larger towns. That would have meant Fort Kent on the right and Eagle Lake on the left if you traveled up the hill to the fork from the store. On the way to Eagle Lake you came to the small settlement town of Wallagrass – Soldier Pond fell officially within the district of Wallagrass Plantation.

When you walked in the front of the store, you pushed in a heavy wooden door that had a glass window from the waist up if you were an adult, chin up or nose up or above your head depending on how small a child you were. Upon entry, there were nail barrels on either side for people to sit on and chat. Later Mom would add an old stuffed rocker on the left side of the entrance, and my dog Chillie would love to climb into it to nap in the sunshine that flooded in through the large windows on either side of the door.

The cats Blackie and Mitzie also liked the warm seat. Only those two cats were allowed into the store; the others stayed in the shed or roamed outside, and Dad cared for all the animals. He fed the cats in the shed and Chillie in our kitchen upstairs. He gave treats to them all in the side- store where he cut the meat.

Upon entering from the front, you were faced with aisles of canned goods on the left and bread and pastries on the right. Cereals and other boxed goods as well as baking products were on the wall shelves on the left. Against the wall on the right was a cooler for milk, cream, butter, soft drinks, and after the beer license, beer.

Mom was hoping someday we’d get a freezer for ice-cream, but we never did.

Behind the counter straight ahead and toward the rear of the store, was a whole wall of candy bars in their respective boxes, open and leaning forward displaying their contents. Right next to that display and directly behind the cash register were cigarettes packed in neat rows in a glass case and next to them were wall shelves of all kinds of medicines, elixirs and tonics for spring, cold remedies, aspirin, rubbing alcohol and the like.

Right next to the counter where the penny candies were also on display near the cash register, was a glassed-in white meat case displaying fresh meats, red hot-dogs, blood sausages known as (boudin) and cold cuts, and cheese.

A great white scale was on a counter next to that. Here were weighed all the bulk goods: bolts and nuts and nails, the meat, and cookies from the glassed-in cookie case that held the coconut cookies and pinwheels and jelly-filled and date-filled and ginger snaps too. Underneath the scale were brown paper bags of varying sizes, very small to very large.

There was a red metal peanut machine that stood on a pedestal in front of the counter with the scale. For one penny you could get a whole fistful of beer nuts. A bubble gum machine with jaw-breaking blue, red, green, yellow and orange balls filled the inside of a yellow stand with a clear thick plastic dome right next to the peanut machine. For one penny, you could try your hand at breaking your jaw. I was allowed one ball when my cousin Barbara came to visit in the summer from Biddeford, Maine.

In an anti-room on the right and just off the main part of the store, there stood the large square kerosene tank. In that same space was a wall of cubby holes filled with various sized nails and nuts and bolts, spikes and screws. On a shelf above the kerosene tank were kerosene lamps for sale. There was a pickle barrel and a salt pork barrel and two more nail barrels for sitting and chatting away the minutes. There were overalls hanging on one wall, mostly for men, but some for children too; there were work gloves and large red handkerchiefs on shelves with brimmed caps and a few brimmed straw hats for working the potato houses and fields. There were hoes and shovels leaning up against the wall and brooms and dustpans too.

The back door to the store led outside through the heavy wooden storm door and screened door where stood a long wooden bench for people to sit on and talk. The red gas pump stood by the side of the road; the Flying Horse emblem on a round white disk at the top. The car garage was out there too attached to the shed and just below the porch outside the house, which extended onto the fenced-in lawn up on a knoll and facing the water and the houses and fields across the water, including the schoolhouse now painted white, which had been red when Mom attended. Potato houses were lined up next to each other and down the embankment from the unpaved road and just above the railroad tracks, which were up a smaller embankment from the water’s edge.

Back inside was the side-store room through another doorway directly in front of you as you stepped in from the back entrance and past the kerosene tank now behind the opened storm-door. In this room, Dad cut the meat that was kept in the meat case and in the meat locker, which was located in that room. He had a butcher table and sharp knives and thick brown wrapping paper with white twine for wrapping. In that room, were kept cases of empty soda bottles and in season, fresh produce like onions and grapefruit and oranges, pears and peaches. There was a rack that held brightly colored envelopes of seeds with pictures of the product on the outside of the envelope.

There was a wide window sill as well, where you could sit in the sun and look out of the tall wide glass window. Outside the window and directly across the road was the small grey building referred to as “the office” and more potatoes houses stood in line along the tracks. You could also see the water and, in winter time, the section that was scraped and used as an ice-skating rink. The evergreen woods and hills stretched out to infinity. We played cards, Old Maid, in that window. We played jacks too and laughed and sometimes ate potato chips and drank soda.

The cellar door, a trap door in the floor, opened up; and a stairway led down into the dark earth basement where one light bulb with a pull chain hung from the ceiling and where the furnace was located and where Dad had nursed a sick cat or two or three over the years. He fed them canned milk and they came out looking picture-perfect after having survived awful cat fights in the woods. Dad fell down those same cellar stairs and broke his cheek bone when he drank too much one time. Then, he had to wear glasses permanently.

Behind the counter where the scale stood in the store proper was another door that led to the back-store, where cases of empty beer bottles and soda bottles were kept, and there was a large heavy old brown desk always over-loaded with files and papers. On the desk was a massive Underwood typewriter, which I loved to play with and on which I would write my small story books and poems. The room reeked of the smell of beer and soda, but I stared out the window that looked into the tall grass from the hillside, where we slid down in winter time and where the apple tree stood with its most fragrant spring blossoms. My apple tree, and I fought for it too, yelling at the boys who climbed it and ate the green apples, never allowing them to grow red.

The stairs – that went up to where we lived and into our kitchen on the left, and out onto the screened-in porch on the right – were just outside the back-store. A door that led to the shed was also there at the foot of the same stairs, as well as, another screen door that went outside to where the bench was and near the store’s rear entrance.

In the store proper again, Dad had an office behind the counter and to the left as you walked in through the front of the store. You couldn’t see it immediately until you walked up to the counter to pay for your purchase, but you could hear the music emanating from the sometimes staticy brown radio. The office was behind a walled-in section. It was a small office. On the wall hung a pay phone next to the large scenic wall-calendar. There was an old oak desk, a black phone and a swivel chair. This is where Dad read the morning paper from which he then made his daily tongue-in-cheek pronouncements goading the population who visited. A large filing cabinet stood against the wall. On top of the cabinet was a grey wire rack with clips that held all of the unpaid bills from the local poor people.

We were all poor – in varying degrees.

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