Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Father's Store

I'm still away from home for a couple of days and so I've decided to re-publish a blog post from two years ago. I'll be back to reply to comments and visit your blogs in a couple of days - maybe even sooner. Till then, I hope you enjoy this story about when I was a kidlet and my Dad owned a variety store.

I've recently begun reading a book called "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. I'm only a couple of chapters into it, but so far, the story has triggered a cherished childhood memory.

The setting is that of a second hand book store - a family business run by a biographer and her father. The character tells of her passion for books, leaving her readers with the understanding that reading is almost as necessary to her emotional survival as breathing is to her physical existence. She describes "the smell of old books, so sharp, so dry you can taste it."

When I was a kid, my Dad owned a variety shop. It was on a popular corner in Montreal and he drew in regular crowds from the busy bus stops and transfer point outside, as well as from neighbouring homes. He had a near-steady flow of loyal customers who made a point of dropping by whether they needed to purchase something or not. Often they just wandered in to chat and have a laugh, as my father shared his latest joke.

My parents' devotion to their customers was strong, and they occasionally attended their weddings, celebrated births and birthdays and mourned their deaths. That loyalty was mutual. When my father passed away more than a decade after selling his store, our family was deeply touched by the number of past customers who came to his funeral.

It was a true "Mom and Pop" shop, and my parents worked long hours, seven days a week. Dad opened the store before 7 a.m. so that workday commuters could run in to buy their newspaper and chat with him before continuing their journey when the next bus arrived. Mom took his place in the afternoon when he would come home for lunch and a nap. He locked up for the night at 11 p.m. to come home, eat and settle in to watch The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In later years, my sister and I would each find ourselves helping out by working behind the cash and stocking shelves. Early on, Dad also hired Pat to work the cash during his off hours and rare days off. She too, became a close family friend, and my sister keeps in touch with her to this day.

During the school year, if Mom was at the store in the afternoon, as she often was, I'd head over there directly after school instead of going home. First I'd have to do my homework in the tiny storeroom at the back, and possibly indulge in take-out barbecue chicken or a burger from one of the nearby restaurants. Then the store shelves were mine to explore and enjoy.
Looking around, there was much to see and do. The shelves were stocked with colourful stuffed animals, bubbles and Slinkys. Puffy pink and red Valentine's and glittery Christmas greetings would attract the eye, as displays changed for each upcoming holiday. Sometimes I'd grab a bag of Humpty Dumpty barbecue chips for a snack, and wash it down with an icy cold Nesbitt's orange soda. The soft drink companies often held contests in which you were required to check under the caps for winnings. My sister and I would pull out the tray which collected the colourful, sticky caps, and go through them in search of prizes of "free bottles" or of treasures worth "10¢!!!" hidden behind the cork backings.

I loved being there when the daily orders would come in. Opened boxes would reveal the wonderful scents of chocolate, gum and other sweets required to replenish the two displays of candy bars and penny candy. Twice a week, comic and magazine orders would come in, and Dad would give me the task of removing the older copies from the stands and replacing them with the new editions. I'd often get lost between the covers of their shiny, new pages. I'd read anything. In younger years my tastes ranged from Casper and Richie Rich to Millie the Model, Archie and romance comics and Children's Digest. Later, I turned my attention to teen magazines like Seventeen and Tiger Beat, satire such as Mad and Cracked, and eventually Cosmopolitan and other fashion publications. I even bought the first editions of Playgirl and Viva, partly because the banners across the top right corners said they'd be valuable someday, but mostly because the guys inside were cute - and naked.

And then there were the pocket books.
Our store had a large wall-rack which was loaded with the latest novels, from ceiling to floor. They were replenished semi-frequently and it never mattered if I didn't get around to reading one, or several titles that I had mentally set aside, because the book companies never wanted the unsold books back in their possession. They only needed the covers for their inventory, and to ensure that unsold, credited merchandise would not be offered for sale. Of course this meant that our home was loaded up with boxes upon boxes of books, hand-selected from the store's rejects. To this day, those books often come to mind when I open a new paperback novel.

Though not nearly as intense as the scent from old, hard-covered books mentioned in the above author's quote, there is still a certain smell to the ink in pocket books. When I open a new or used book for the first time, the scent that wafts up to my nose brings me back to the days of my father's store, and all its treasures that laid within. I can almost feel how my right hand rested upon a shiny back cover as my left hand touched the dry, rough paper of the title page beneath it.

I'm guessing I'll continue to enjoy The Thirteenth Tale. Both its scent and its verbal imagery have already succeeded in bringing me to a place and time when days were carefree, and my imagination soared. And that's exactly what a good story is meant to do.

Here's my Dad, where he stood proudly for many years, doing what he loved best - schmoozing with his customers, telling jokes, listening to life stories and making life-long friends. A bit of online sleuthing tells me that this photo was taken in April of 1970, which corresponds with the date of the TV Guide seen in the bottom right-hand corner.


June said...

Oh boy. I'm right there with you.
There are sensual pleasures in books, particularly old ones, deeper than the pleasure of the stories within them.
This is a wonderful memoir of your dad as well as your younger life. What value you gained from your work in that store! I'm glad you included a photo. He looks like a nice man.

I have The Thirteenth Tale. It's one of the books that I don't even want to lend out for fear I won't get it back.

Daryl said...

Wonderful post, your dad had a great smile, even in this shot you can see it lit up his eyes.

I read The Thirteenth Tale and was disappointed... I hope you werent.

June, if anyone wants to borrow yours, you can tell them they can have my copy ...

NJ said...

Such a great post! It's great when a book can spark old memories!

Saz said...

so pleased you revisited this missed by me post....a cherished memory indeed...the archie comics remember well from my Canadian times in '66-'67 in mOntreal, love jughead, betty and veronica too...getting the comic is for me memory, walking up towards the store, with mum, sometimes alone, and we had to cross a railway line and walk through a Sunoco station....sigh..

thanks for retelling...

saz x

Saz said...

the first page of Carlos Ruin,s novel something in the shadows, has a great few paragraphs abut a 'library and books' its sublime...

Phyllis E said...

Cuzzie, thanks so much for reposting one of my favourite Smitten Images. I can close my eyes and still see the store - and your Mom and Dad.

Beautiful start to a beautiful day (sun is actually shining here).

Hugs from Cuzzie P

Hilary said...

We were both the daughters of salesmen...interesting, huh?
I love that your Dad wore a suit, and looked all spiffy.
And I understand those memories. How they never really go away.

Brian Miller said...

hilary, i love this. i remember visiting the corner store and marveling. to actually own it and be able to just spend time there had to be amazing. think i would have got lost in the magazines and books as well. so cool when a book can take us to those places. hope your travels are safe, yet fun.

Shammickite said...

A well remembered memory from your family history, Hilary, now I feel that I know you a little bit better. You dad looks very comfortable behind the counter of his variety store, with his suit jacket and his friendly smile. Wish your store had been at the corner of my street!

Dianne said...

your Dad has a wonderful mixture of dignity and kindness in his look with a bit of mischief thrown in

lovely story Hil :)

LadyFi said...

Oh, I am right there with you in that store, listening to one of your dad's jokes.

VM Sehy Photography said...

My Dad did autobody work. He owned his shop. So memories for me come from the smell of paint and turpentine although I'm not sure either of those are too healthy much less a combination.

It seems that books are in the air. I was thinking about how nice it is to hold a book. And I started wondering how long it would be before this is no longer possible. And how it would then be possible to remake the world in an instant. Then we would have a truly Orwellian world. I decided not to be so blythe about giving away my books from then on.

Then later a lady at Costco told me it was nice to see my son reading. To actually see someone holding a book.

It's nice to live in a world where people still understand how important it is to actually have a physical item to hold and read. Versus just reading off a computer screen.

Unknown said...

Wonderful and lovely post !! i really enjoyed the post !!

Karen said...

Love the picture of your dad. Love books that touch a special place in your heart.

ellen abbott said...

My husband's grandparents owned a 'corner' store. He has many fond memories of summers and after school afternoons, of the soda, the candy and the comic books.

Grayquill said...

I enjoyed this read as you took me along on your meanderings up and down those isles. It is always interesting to know what are the stories that make us who we are. Thanks for sharing this small part of you.

Frank Baron said...

BBQ-d chicken or burgers after school...washed down with a cold pop...reading just-released comics before anyone else....

Tell me again how you weren't spoiled. ;)

I wish I could have met your Dad. :)

Dawning Inspiration said...

Oh wow - what fabulous memories - and what a great tribute to your parents. My dad had a beauty shop that I used to go hang out in, clean, decorate, etc on weekends. When I was really young I would pack a "brief case" full of coloring books and crayons and such to play with while Dad did hair and chatted with his customers. Fun times... thanks for sharing!

Unspoken said...

And here I was scrolling down hoping to see a picture of a naked man posted ;) Haha. LOVE book stores. How FORTUNATE you were! And I enjoyed The Thirteeth Tale.

Fun post, Hilary!

Joanna Jenkins said...

What a great picture of your dad. I love that he's wearing a tie at work-- YOu don't see that very often anymore.

Hope you're having a great time away,

CiCi said...

I know you are having a grand time right now and it will be so much fun to hear all about everything when you get back. Best wishes to your son and thanks for posting a dear post about your dad.

Cheryl Kohan said...

I really enjoyed reading this, Hilary, and it brought back some memories for me, too. We had a little grocery store in a tiny town when I was growing up. We lived in the attached apartment behind it.

I know your father must have been a lovely person because he has smile lines around his eyes. You don't get smile lines unless you smile a lot. I'm so glad you have that photograph.

ds said...

Wow. I could see, feel, touch every nook and cranny of that store. Thanks so much for sharing these memories--and the photo of your dad, a generous and kind-hearted soul.

Steve Gravano said...

Great post, Hillary. I didn't catch it the first time. I agree with Daryl about your dad's smile, it's infectious. There's something about the shopkeepers back in those days, look how your dad is dressed. Not too many shop keepers wear ties and jackets any longer. We have a local pharmacist that opens six days a week with a tie and jacket and every hair in place. Makes ya feel special when you walk into his store.

Cricket said...

A lovely memoir. Never saw it the first time, so it was new to me.

Of course, I was the kid that was getting chased out of the local corner store, but that's a story for another time.

And my pick is unquestionably Corner Store, by Jonathan Richman.

Hope you had a great vaca.

Friko said...

A tale to remember.

Pauline said...

Such a delightful memory, wonderfully recounted. I miss the mom and pop stores - we had one like that in our tiny town and everyone at one time or another went there. Your memory brought sweet ones back to me - thanks :)

Bossy Betty said...

I loved this post--the memories are so vivid because of your wonderful writing style and the details you use.

Love the picture of your dad too!

Scott Law said...

Great shot of your dad. I think it is so cool that he was wearing a suit and tie to run his little store, how GREAT is that??? As you can tell I come for the photos.

Sueann said...

My dad was in sales as well. He wore a suit every day. When he passed away, people from all walks of life came to his funeral! So many we didn't know; but they knew my dad and wanted to pay their respects. It was such a blessing to us.
Loved the photo of your dad and it blessed me to remind me of mine!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous post... I now want to buy a corner for a shop - that's how it works right?

messymimi said...

My grandmother owned the small grocery store in her neighborhood, and my father still tells us stories about it.

You have brought back good memories.

Kerri Farley said...

What a FABULOUS post Hilary! And a GREAT picture of your Dad to treasure!!

Russell said...

Sounds wonderful - talk about a wonderful place to be as a child!

We had a store similar to yours in my little town and it was, by far, my favorite place to go if I could be in town.

And I still read Archie comic books! (No kidding!!)

Suldog said...


I've given you praise - rightly so - for your photography, many times. But, this...

This is my favorite post of yours. You describe the scenes, the smells, the sensuousness of such stores, so perfectly! Honest to God, I could almost feel myself there next to you as you opened the cartons and read the comics and ate the chips, etc.

And I absolutely love the smell of books, both old and new. I'll open up an old moldy book and take a big whiff of it and get what I assume is a semi-orgasmic look on my face, and MY WIFE (highly allergic to some airborne things) will get this incredulous look on her face and ask if I really, truly like that musty smell. Yes, I do. I adore it. It brings me back to childhood, immediately, every time.

As did this reminiscence, and I thank you.

Deb said...

Silly me. I don't know you or your family but as I read this post I got teary. Powerful memories which you shared with great depth and detail. And 'The Thirteenth Tale' is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read...

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Such a lovely remembrance of your childhood and your father, whose smile lines tell of a wonderful man.

maddie said...

Now, I've never heard of a variety store. But plenty of variety, for sure. This post sounds like an Anne Tyler novel.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Hilary: That was such a special story from your Dad's life.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, beautifully written and I could smell the books from here. The scent of books is the first thing I remember before I could actually read [the older one gets the earlier the momories] Rupert yellow books they were. I would take them down from the shelf and open them to breath in that musty smell of paper.

Your dad has a face to love...smiles that never go away.

Teri and her Stylish Cats ~ Coco the Couture Cat, Brighton, Disco NoFurNo and Kely said...

What a wonderful post, photo and memories. I have similar ones of 'helping' my grandfather in his garage/machine shop...think that's why I love the smell of gasoline and leather so much--he had lovely Jaguars and worked on them himself and his garage was his castle.

SandyCarlson said...

A book that can stir up that kind of wonderful memory is definitely for me. That is a great post. That must have been a great experience, that shop. There was a variety store down the road from my childhood home, and the men on the stools at various points in the day made it always the family kitchen, in a way. Loved it.

Anonymous said...

Great post, its nice when you can relate your story with a book.

You had a wonderful dad! And he looked good in the picture! ;)


Paul C said...

You capture the features of this store so well. The photo of your dad complements the memories.

Hilary said...

• June, thanks very kindly. I have some wonderful memories from time spent at my Dad's store surrounded by books, magazines and comics. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Daryl, thank you. Yes, my Dad had a major sense of humour and it always showed in his eyes. He gave himself away whenever he was up to something. I wasn't disappointed in the book but nether was I overly impressed. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks, NJ. It was a worthwhile book for that reason, for sure. :)

• Saz, your time in Montreal coincides with some of the years that my father had his store. No doubt we were reading the same comics back then. I'm trying to picture where you might be describing and of course it could be anywhere. There were lots of train lines in Montreal. Thanks for sharing your memories. And for the book tip. I'll have to check that out. :)

• Thanks so much, Phyllis. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and memories of my parents. Cuzzie hugs right back at you. :)

• Hilary, yes that is interesting but not any more or less so than all the other similarities. :) The truth is that I'm not so sure my Dad used to dress like that all the time. It could be he was expecting this photo to be taken.. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thank you, Brian. Yes, my memories are of great times at my parents' store. It really was a kick to be able to do the things I could because of it. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Shammie, thank you. My Dad had all his regular customers who were happy to have him at the corner of their neighbourhood street. It was a good group. Thanks for the kind words. :)

• Dianne, you have him well-pegged for sure. Especially the mischief part. Thank you. :)

• Lady Fi, I'll bet it's a corny one, isn't it? ;) Thanks for the visit. :)

• VM, I can imagine how strongly the smell of paint and turpentine would draw you back to your Dad's auto body shop. That sense of smell is powerful. I quite agree with you about the book vs Kindles. I like the idea of an electronic reader which can be loaded with so many books - instantly available for reading. But I can't imagine the same comfort I feel from holding a book, flipping pages and even marking my spot with a bookmark. I think (hope) that real books will be around for a long time to come. Thanks for your visit. :)

• UR, thanks very kindly. Much appreciated. :)

• Karen, thanks very much. I appreciate your kind words. :)

• Ellen, that sounds just like my childhood. I'm sure that your husband and I could easily talk shop. ;)

• Grayquill, thank you kindly. I'm so glad that you enjoyed the post. Very much appreciated. :)

• Frank, it was a tough existence. The munchcies were only allowed occasionally. And yes, you would have loved my Dad.. and he, you. :)

Hilary said...

• SD, I'm delighted with all the memories that folks are sharing about their own family's businesses. Yours sound like some fine memories too. I'll bet there are many smells which easily bring you back to the beauty shop. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Amy, I tried to snap that photo but Frank just refused to pose. Men! Thanks for the kind words. :)

• Joanne, the truth be told I don't think I saw him dressed up like that all that often. Clearly it was photo day. :) Thanks for the kind wishes. :)

• TechnoBabe, thanks so much. I had a wonderful time and need to work on my photos from those few days. Thanks very kindly for stopping by. :)

• CherylK, thank you. I'm loving these memories which my post has evoked in so many. So cool that your family had a grocery store. I'll bet you have fond memories of time spent there. You are so right about my Dad and his smile lines. He was always cracking jokes, teasing and getting a kick out of something. You read him right. :)

• DS, thank you so much for joining me at my Dad's store. I'm so happy to have you along. :)

• Steve, thank you. My Dad was indeed a character. I'm honestly not so certain that he dressed like that all so often - the shirt for sure - I'm not so sure about the tie and jacket. It might well have been for the sake of the photo. Still, customers always did feel special when they walked into his store. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Cricket, thanks. There were plenty of kids like you who visited my Dad's store. I'd sure love to hear those stories... I wasn't familiar with Corner Store but its message is apt for the past several decades. I just looked for my parents' store on Google Street and see that it's now a bakery (patisserie) shop. In fact, about 95% of the neighbourhood shops have changed. Thanks always for the visit. :)

• Thanks for stopping by, Friko.

• Pauline, I'm glad my post could evoke some sweet memories for you. I think that those mom and pop stores are probably few and far between now. Thanks for visiting mine. :)

• Betty, thanks so much for your very kind words. They're much appreciated. :)

• Thanks, Scott. I'm pretty sure that the suit and tie were for the photo but Dad always made his customers feel special when they visited. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :)

• SueAnn, I'm glad that the story about my Dad's store brought back memories of your own Dad and his occupation. No doubt he made many good impressions on his customers. Thanks for letting me know. :)

• ED, thank you. That's exactly how it works.. save a cold coke for me, please! :)

• Messymimi, I'm glad to hear that this story spawned some good memories for you. I don't doubt your father remembers those days fondly. :)

Hilary said...

• Thanks very kindly, Kerrie. Much appreciated. :)

• Russell, it truly was a fun place to spend my time. Always so much to see and do. My Dad's customers thought so too. You still read Archie? I'll bet they're not 10 or 12 cents any longer. ;) Thanks for the visit. :)

• Suldog, thank you so much, my friend. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post and that you felt as if you were there alongside me. I know you would have loved his store. I can tell that from all of your own childhood tales of a wide-eyed boy who loved his surroundings. The smell of books seems to be very appealing to many folks though I can understand YOUR WIFE'S distaste for musty books - particularly if she has allergies. I'm so happy that my story brought back fond memories of the time for you. Yours do that for me so often. :)

• Deb, thank you kindly. I'm glad that my story about Dad's store touched you like that. I really appreciate your letting me know. I hope you enjoy the book. :)

• Thanks, KC. You're right about my Dad and his smile lines. Thanks for the visit. :)

• Maddie thanks for stopping by with kind words. Much appreciated. :)

• Thanks kindly, Fishing Guy. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

• Moannie, thank you so much. It seems a lot of people have this strong attraction to the smell of books. You're right about it being among our earliest memories. Thanks very much for the kind words. I have no doubt my Dad would have charmed you, and you he, if you walked into his store during your Montreal days. :)

• Thank you, Teri. It's wonderful how certain smells bring us back to these happy times - each associated with a family business - no matter what it is. I've always loved the smell of garages and I don't have a particular childhood association with them, so I can imagine how powerful that smell is for you. Thanks for sharing your memories in return. :)

• Sandy, thank you. It truly was a great experience for so many reasons. There was always something to see and do - always someone to talk to. I can imagine the kind of shop you're referencing. There were a few like that in my neighbourhood too and they always attracted their regulars.. with their three - maybe four snack bar stools. Fond memories. Thanks for stopping by. :)

• Thanks kindly, MelRoXx. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Much appreciated. :)

• Paul, thanks so much. I'm pleased to know that you think so. :)

Linda said...

Hilary, it's great that you have such wonderful memories, and have committed them to print. That's a nice picture of your Dad in his store. As my Mom would say, those were the good old days.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

How I enjoyed reading this. Your dad - I pictured him before I saw the photo. I'm envious of your opportunity to grow up in this store. Penny candy, books, a soda pop machine. Heaven. I used to go to a similar store with my dad. Only store open on Sunday afternoons. He bought pipe tobacco. I buried myself in the books. I recall the smell of those paperbacks.

Lovely piece.

Ed Pilolla said...

it's a beautiful picture of your father and lovely post. glad i stopped by.

Kat said...

What memories your mom and dad created for everyone who walked into that store. And for their children too. What an absolutely wonderful childhood. It sounds magical. Enchanting.
An absolutely beautiful post.
And WOW. What a great picture. That smile on your father says it all. :)

Hilary said...

• Thanks, Linda. Those were indeed the good old days. Now I feel old! Thanks for stopping by. :)

•MJ, it sounds like you had some pretty fond memories of your visits to the corner store with your Dad. It was a simpler time.. how could it not evoke fond memories? Thanks so much for the visit. :)

• Thank you, Ed. I'm glad you did too and I hope you'll return again soon. :)

• Thank you, Kat. It was indeed all of that and more. It was a great time and has left me with wonderful memories. Thanks for stopping by. :)


steviewren said...

Hilary, I loved reading this story about the family store and your childhood. That's a great character shot of your dad as well.

Cloudia said...

wonderful post-

wonderful man!


Comfort Spiral

Unknown said...

Hilary.... I can't tell you how glad I am that you shared this. Incredible. Your father sounds as fabulous as his picture. And what a dream... growing up in a store.

I was born in Montreal. btw. Near NDG park.

Hilary said...

• Steviewren, thanks so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

• Thanks kindly, Cloudia. :)

• Deb, I'm so thrilled that you left this comment because as you know, the email exchange which ensued revealed that you and I lived one block apart and had people in common. Too cool! :)

lime said...

what a wonderful remembrance. i'm so glad you reposted this since it was my first chance to read it. such cherished everyday memories that make up life. :)

Hilary said...

Thanks so much, Lime. It was a wonderful time full of incredible memories. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)