Sunday, August 24, 2008

Those Unfriendly Megastores vs. The Company Store

I KNEW I COMMITTED the cardinal sin as soon as I had said hello to an unfamiliar face in one of those blockbuster grocery stores on Saturday.
How dare you, Corbett? Are you insane? Talking to a complete stranger and expecting a civil answer? Where do you think you are?
That was the troubling thought during the past 48 hours; that I’d actually gone shopping with The Missus on Saturday afternoon instead of being hunkered down at the Ol’ Homestead and watching the Beijing Olympics and obeying the rules of No Talking To Strangers.
Actually, I had forgotten to pick up The Megastore List of Do’s and Don’t before shopping including remembering the strict no passing zones and always silently mumbling words your mother would wash your mouth out with soap in days gone past.
However, I can’t be exoepted to remember all the Megastore regulations; after all I don’t get into the Big City that often.
But there was a time it was different. Let me tell you about the Company Store from long, long ago:
There was this bell. Tinkle. Tinkle. It always rung when you opened the door to The Store.There were other stores (lower case s) amd outlets (lower case o's) in Bass River, Nova Scotia. Whatcha think we were, hicks?
There was the Coop, Rutherford's, just past Aunt Myrtle's telephone exchange. Then, Old Man Keirstead's place, which I frequented often in hopes of getting a glimpse at his magnificent daughter, Charlotte, who never glanced my way.
And then there was Canning's dual-purposed ice cream parlour and barber shop, where in the back room they had this hydraulic chair which tilted back and forth. And a plethora of sweet-smelling aromas in tall bottles just for men. Lilac-rose.
Some day I wanted to go in that back room and sit in that barber's chair, the one that tilted back and forth, and have Mr. Canning lather up my face, and take that long straight razor and scrape that massive accumulation of peach fuzz off.
And then wrap a steaming hot towel over my face and let me then soak up the odour of lilac-rose, generously splashed on my cheekbones.
While there were assorted places, there was only one Store. That's with a capital S. There was no need to identify it as the Dominion Chair Company Store.
Everybody knew that. It loomed at the end of the Bass River bridge, a two-storey elongated gray barn of a building, with six small windows on the second level and these bay windows on the front.
On one end there was a gas pump of the leaded variety and imperial gallons and at the other end, a makeshift parking lot.
It sat underneath a cliff, where in deep winter, parents always had standing orders for their kids never to go cardboarding (a makeshift version of modern-day tobogganing, only using discarded boxes, flattened out and used by either one or two or three or four daredevils), for fear their little darlings would come off the crest of the hill, across the makeshift parking lot onto Highway 2, barely being missed by the Acadian bus going from Parrsboro to Truro and clipping the side of the post office and landing in that swirling, mighty trickle known as Bass River.
The Store had this musty smell and an ominous foreboding of hidden treasures.
There was a candy counter shielded by curved glass at the front, filled with round sweet nuggets of ecstasy.
And there was this friendly clerk, by the name of Russell, who had this bulbous nose, which even W.C. Fields would envy.
Someone told me he had this long hair in his normal-sized nose and after pulling it out, his proboscis became grotesque.
I questioned that analysis. Maybe, Russell Creelman was a silent boozer on the side. After all, he was United, you know.
My mother told me later he died from pulling that hair out of his nose. I repented.
There was hardware in the back of The Store. Great galvanized bath tubs and pipes and nails and along one side were great rolls of curtain and dress materials, managed over by a woman named Grace, who wasn't amazing.
And then there was The Office. That was at the end, through a door, next to the makeshift parking lot where Mr. James S. Creelman and his cronies made the decision affecting the life of every one in Bass River.
In one corner, was a bank vault and I knew that all the money in the entire world was locked in that vault. At least $1,000.
You could also get your ticket out of town in there. It said right on the outside of The Store that they were the official agent for Acadian Bus Lines.
Deep within the bowels of my files, I have found a picture of a defiant three-year old, Willard and Annona Corbett's little boy, Kerwood, tricycling towards the Bass River Bridge, caught by an unknown cameraperson. He'd just left The Store, where he had charged a 90-cent package of tea.
It was Kerwood's first venture away from his road and he thought that it was time to explore the world.
My parents weren't impressed.
My Dad immediately went to The Store and paid my bill.
I'm told I went to bed without my supper.
But I never again went to The Store without my parents.
However, I’d trade all the Megastores in the universe for just one last visit to The Store and being able to open the door and hear that bell. Tinkle. Tinkle.
(OK Corbett is a former editor-columnist with the Edmonton Sun and one of the originals of the Toronto Sun. He can be reached at


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