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The Center of the Community

Story ID:8248
Written by:Michael Timothy Smith (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Family History
Location:Sambro Nova Scotia Canada
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The old store, Hartís Store as we all called it, was just across the street from me. Owned
by my grandmother Dot and my step-grandfather Charlie. I spent a lot of time there. It was a
place of wonder for a young boy. The smell of the fresh goods made a person hungry. A yellow
painted bench Ė probably lead paint Ė ran the length of the left side of the store and opened to
provide storage for potatoes, onions and other produce. Above it, shelves, which climbed to the
ceiling, were lined with canned goods. On the right, coolers and freezers for
pop, ice cream, milk stretched to the counter on which sat an old mechanical cash register.
Charlie, punched in the purchase, pulled the lever on the side, punched in another and pulled the
lever to get the total.

Charlie liked his drink. He was often drunk at the controls. One day he pulled the lever,
lost his balance, stumbled back and pulled the register to the floor. Coins spewed out and rolled
over the worn wooden floor. Charlie never let a chance to swear pass him by. On this occasion
his outburst lasted for ten minutes. I left before my ears were damaged.

In the late afternoons, my friends and I sat on the front steps to the store and watched
the fishing boats come into the harbor. Filled with fish, they attracted white and black clouds of
screeching seagulls, each hoping for a scrap of fish to fill their bellies.

I knew the schedule of every delivery truck. In the summer, Iíd watch for them and
rush to offer my help carrying things into the store. In return, they paid me with their wares. The
ice cream man offered me a choice of delicious treats: drum sticks, buried treasure with its swirls
orange sherbet, popsicles and more.

My favorite was Joe. He brought the candy. Iíd help him carry it all and receive a
chocolate bar or some other sweet for my labors. One day, when the delivery was complete and
I thought Joe was in the store; I left with my treat and locked the back of his truck for him. I
didnít know Joe was still in the back. I locked him in. It was thirty minutes before he got the
attention of someone to let him out. With good humor, he never let me forget my mistake.

Charlie and Dot had hired help. Nora worked for a small amount of cash and room-and-
board. A short dumpling of a woman, sheíd pay me to help her in later years. She did the
wash in an old washing machine with rollers to wring out the water.

I hung the laundry on the clothes line for her and retrieved them after they dried. In the
winter, they froze and stood in the basket as if held up by invisible bodies.

In the evening, the bench was lined with men, home from the sea, some still in their
rubber boots and smelling of fish. They sat, smoked and told tall tales. My uncle Clifford
came most evenings and would give me a nickel to buy candy.

On the main counter, Charlie lined jars full of sugary treats: peppermints, licorice,
gumballs, and others I can no longer remember.

I sat, ate my candy and listened to stories my young ears had no right to hear, but
didnít understand anyway. I felt grown up among the men who ignored me.

The old yellow store was not just a supplier of goods; It was a place to gather and get the
latest village gossip; it was home; it was a center of the community.

Michael T. Smith