Monday, June 26, 2017

SPIT AND POLISH

It started with a shoe. A used sheet of newspaper, a stiff brush, a clean rag and a tin of polish. It ended with spit and polish, buffed until it was as shiny as a penny.

Arkansas.  Rhode Island.  Morocco.  Virginia.  Texas.  Finally time to settle down. The Big D.  A new baby.  Another new baby.  New roads.  Their one car, a red Volkswagen Beetle purchased with cash in Rabat.  The bus stop for Daddy going and coming.

Sanger Harris.  Titche Goettinger.  I was the only one in my school who's father was a linen buyer. I just knew he worked at the store.  There has always been a store in my life.

Buying trips to New York City several times a year.  Bringing home beautiful linens made all over the world.  Visiting American mills producing luxury sheets and cotton towels.  An eye for the special and the necessary which would draw in the customer at a time when cloth napkins still graced the tabletop.

November 1963.  Employees standing at the store windows watching the Presidential motorcade as it passes by.  A shining city welcoming the young President and his wife. Only minutes later, horrible news rushes down the aisles as the whole world stops.

Retailing is a hard job.  A good promotion requires change.  Even in the middle of my seventh grade, The King and I and Campfire Girls.  Even if Phillip comes to my house with a stuffed animal and a box of chocolates.  Even if this is a great move for Daddy's career.  On a dark January day, the vans are packed as sleet falls - the worse day of my life.

Spelling Mississippi over and over.  A new store for loyalty.  New opportunities in a new market.  A brand new house full of shag carpeting, a big backyard with a creek and quiet neighborhood streets for biking.  First hellos to  friends who will last a lifetime.  Grand, new store openings with champagne fountains, the heady fragrance tickling noses.  Meeting Paul Bear Bryant and lunch with Erma Bombeck.  Seeing Eudora Welty in the post office.  A teenager romanced by hanging moss in Natchez and amazed by the girl in the swing in New Orleans.  

At thirteen, his interest is peaked by a mens' shoe advertisement.  He writes the company a letter.  Even then, he was interested in product, style and quality.  With two older sisters, he has a constant parade of fashion ingenuity during WWII.  A few years later, his sister buys him his first sports coat.  A picture captures the spark of a young man discovering his presence in the new jacket.

Retailing effects every family member.  Longer hours.  Unending pressure.  Unrelenting goals.  Stress comes walking in the door every night, exhausted.  Our family stays together facing forward.

Arkansas.  The land of opportunity.  Grandparents nearby.  Returning home.  A breath of fresh air in a hilly, leafy city.  Great and exciting to be arriving at this elegant store.  We have a wackadoodle summer commuting between two states.  Keeping up a house for sale.  Visiting Daddy in a tiny one bedroom apartment with nil water pressure, no shower, taking twenty minutes to get two standing inches.  Watching Breakfast at Tiffany's, for the first time, on a small black and white t.v.  Dining at the number one restaurant in the nation.  We are feted and enticed into our new city with pretty summer dresses, shoes and matching purses.

Papaw has a stroke.  Our two state commute becomes a triangle on the map. Daddy is going back and forth while navigating a new job.  My sister and are shuffling between angles.  My Papaw dies a week before we move.  A fifteen year old girl does not go to the 7-11 with her cousin to buy a Coke Icee when she is in mourning.  But I have been crying my eyes out, face down on my Mamaw's wool rug for weeks, behind a closed door.

Moving day, the truest, hardest day of my life.  I am face down on the backseat of the boat sized Chevy Impala.  I have said goodbye to the love of my life. My life is over.  Balling my eyes out all the way past the Mississippi River bridge.  There is barely enough air between the crack of the seat to sustain my life.  I don't care.  The dog and the cat have been tranquilized but are still whimpering. My heart will not be soothed for years.

You can do it.  Think positive.  Meet new people.  I am fifteen and I don't care.  About a new job.  About a nice discount.  A new house.   Friendly people.  You can do it.  But I don't want to walk into my huge new school.  I do.  Daddy is happy in his new job.  He whistles walking down the hall.

The first test kitchen appliance is a Cuisinart Food Processor, a top of the line product encouraging everyone to become a gourmet cook in their own kitchen.  Between his office and checking merchandise on the floor, he has planned everything out perfectly.  The advertising, the recipe, the grocery items.  But not the January weather.  He is not deterred.  After all, stores never close.  My sister and I walk blocks in the snow to see him sell the product he believes in.  He has made fresh Steak Tartare, delicious. No let down or disappointment.  If someone is shopping today, he will sell them a new Cuisinart Food Processor.

Retailing is arbitrary.  In and out.  Fashion whims.  Management flip flops.  Keeping their secret, they watch as I graduate from high school as one of the graduation speakers.  Seasons change.  Roll with the punches.  Always have faith for something better is coming.

Retailing is rewarding with strings.  His cloud is lined in platinum.  A homegrown incorporation seeing the business with new eyes.   Store Manager.  Years of business experience opens new professional and personal opportunities.  We stay together and support each other through a difficult time.  Now my sister will move across the state, beginning her senior year of high school in a new school, knowing no one in town except my parents.  Once again, my mother will be driving back and forth, selling the other house and looking for a new home.

Driving up the heavily traveled and winding two-lane highway, passing signs of dire warnings and casualty counts, we are undaunted.  After all, we will have lived in four cities in seven years.  We speak to the new kids.  We don't have time to hang in the corners.  Our adventure depends on us.  We hit town with the purpose of staking roots.  No one really knows their timeline.  Finding loving, open people in every spot.

I will never forget seeing my Daddy waving to us from the hotel porch.  Always there. Looking crisp and cool on this fading summer evening.  Excited to see his girls.  

Burt drops me off in the side parking lot.  My favorite entrance.  I open one heavy, pivoting glass door and another, trading a dusty, hectic world for the cool, pleasant interior of the store.  A different world.  I'd walked through these doors hundreds of times.  The store is busy with women shopping for Father's Day.

The parquet path is the same.  I follow it around the first floor.  I remember my first trip to the new store.   Slacks, a linen-cotton, v-neck sweater and a pair of brushed suede shoes with coral soles.  Always shoes.  Purses.

Walking the floors on our first days in the store as the daughters of the new Manager, immense pride in his new job.  A fast study, learning the merchandise and his employees.  He knows every item in this store. Ownership.  What fun to go from section to section as he picks up this item or flares out a dress in presentation.  Matching towels or picking up merchandise that has fallen to the floor.  He has a flare for showmanship.

I had to visit the second floor.  His office has been moved.  The long business counter.  The china section where a special order of everything Elegance in Blue was boxed, wrapped and wedded.   I am inviting a ghost to walk with me or run into me just around the corner.  The movement of a pretty dress hanging on the stand.  A spritz of Royall Lyme settling on a khaki suit.  Soft silk ties regimented across the counter.  Dust disappearing from a display rack.  Leather parquet.  Leather parquet.  Leather parquet.  Leather parquet.  Excuse me.  I glance around.  No one is there.  I go to walk out the door.  A shiny penny catches my eye.



Happy Father's Day in memory of a man devoted to God, his family and the store.