A charming heart-warming story from a talented Wattpad writer
Hurry up, Gary,” his mother called out from the kitchen. “I need that margarine for the mashed potatoes.”
The small boy slithered back out from under the bed just in time to pocket the sock he’d hidden in an Animal Cracker box. He quickly tossed the box aside as he heard his Mom coming down the hall.
“I thought you wanted to get back before Spin and Marty?” She said, immediately spying something on the floor. “Hand me that box,” she continued, arm outstretched.
His mother stared down at the ten-year old in blue jeans. She began swiping at the front of his striped, long sleeved pullover. “How did you get your shirt so dusty?” She said.
“Get your coat on, Honey and hurry, it’s almost dark.
* * *
“Stomp yahr’ feet, boy,” Mr. Wood said in a pronounced New England accent as Gary entered the door. “Mrs. Wood already mopped once this af-tahnoon.”
“What can I do fahr’ you, son?” Wood continued, as the small boy stomped the snow and slush from his boots onto the mat placed just inside the entrance to the store. The store smelled good, like Mrs. Wood had something cooking in back.
Laying the twenty cents down his Mom had given him for the margarine, he emptied the sock of its treasure: two dimes, one nickel and twelve copper pennies – 37 cents. Gary’s intent was to buy presents for everyone in the family: his Mom, Dad, older sister and his two younger sisters, one and two years old. At a nickel apiece times six, he would still have 7 cents left over for penny sweets for himself and older sister.
“My Mom wants some Blue Bonnet.”
The man went over to a small refrigerated case and pulled out a package of the margarine. “Anything else fahr’ you.” he said.
Gary was hastily scanning the row of clear jars filled with different kinds of sweets. They were colorfully arranged on the old wooden counter according to price: a penny, a nickel or ten cents a piece. Spying what he came for, he pointed to the fat, striped, peppermint sticks without noticing the price.
“I’ll take six of those, please,” he voiced, as he placed his change on the counter and pushed it forward to the shopkeeper.
The proprietor shook out a paper sack and filled it with six of the nectarous items. “Let’s see,” he said, “19 and 60, that’ll be 79 cents.”
His mental calculations completely awry, Gary stared at the man, bewildered … and panicked. In 1955 one did not question one’s elders.
The storekeeper understood and explained: “The distributah’ raised owah’ price and we had to raise the lah’gah sticks to a dime, boy.”
Seeing the boy’s distress, he continued, “We still have the smallah’ ones fahr’a nickel.”
Gary shook his head, “They were for Christmas presents.” It was almost a whisper.
“Christmas presents, eh?” The man rubbed his chin.
“Well, let’s see,” the man said in a thoughtful manner. “How much do we have he-ah?”
He thoughtfully counted the change. “All told, you have…57 cents, Son. Take away 57 from 79, you’ll need 22 mo-ah cents.”
At the still-stricken look on the boy’s face: “Who are they fahr’?” The man said.
“My Mom and Dad and my sisters.”
“Yahr’ sistahs’ are still babies, Son; smallah’ ones be plenty, fahr’ them.”
“My Mom won’t let them have the skinny ones ’cause they’re too much like a stick. But my big sister can.”
Then Gary had a thought.
“I was counting me, too,” he said eagerly. “But I don’t need one, so that’s ten cents less?”
The older man nodded thoughtfully. “Uh, huh, I guess that’s right.” And he pulled one of the fat sticks out of the sack and put it back into the clear bowl.
They’re fahr’ presents, eh?”
The storekeeper rubbed his chin a bit longer and turned to the curtained door behind him. “Mothah, bring that hack saw out he-ah’, will you?”
Soon enough an attractive woman with soft brown hair, older than his Mom, came from the doorway that led into the couple’s living area. She wore a floral housedress and a sweater and handed her husband a small hand saw.
Within minutes one of the fat peppermints was cut into two halves. Mr. Wood cleaned and smoothed off their edges.
“Christmas presents,” he explained over his shoulder to the missus as she looked on.
“Ohh,’ she nodded seriously, still observing.
He said to the boy. “Now you only need fo-ah.” And he returned another fat peppermint stick back to the bowl.
“Now, how’s that?” He said, holding up the two halves.
“Wait, Mrs. Wood said, and chose two disc shaped peppermints from the penny bowls. Wetting them carefully on one side in the small sink behind Mr. Wood, she pressed them onto the unfinished tops of the larger peppermints.
Saying nothing she went back through the curtained doorway carrying the two, new, shorter versions.
Within minutes she returned, smiling. “I placed them on top of the vents from the oven,” she said, “so they would dry and stick better. But be very careful when you wrap them, will you?”
They looked kinda cool, Gary thought, like they wore little caps.
He nodded, “Yes, Ma’am, I will.”
She handed them to her husband who put them separately into a smaller sack and added that to the others.
“No charge for Mrs. Wood’s contributions, Son, but there’s still the mattah’ of 2 cents.”
“Not at all, Motha,’ I’m sure this young man wants to learn the value of a dollah.”
“Yessir,” Gary nodded, hoping the lesson wouldn’t take too long. Getting home before dark was one of his parent’s most stringent rules. If he had to come back, he’d have to explain to his Mom why, and it would spoil his Christmas present surprise.
Mr. Wood bent down and came from around the corner with four medium-sized cardboard boxes.
“Think you can carry these outside they-ah, to the rubbish bin at the curb?” He said.
The older man looked down at the younger, smiling; their eyes reaching a complete understanding of one another.
“Sure can,” the boy said, with obvious relief, smiling too.
“Well hurry up then, Son; it’s getting dark out and I want to eat my suppah.”
When he came back inside the storekeeper handed him his two bags and then showed him how to put the one carrying the peppermints inside the front of his jacket so they wouldn’t be noticeable.
As Gary carried his treasure home, the winter wind was seriously stinging his cheeks, but that small exchange had lifted him somewhat. His mind suddenly opened to all kinds of possibilities. Maybe Mr. Wood would let him work at the store on weekends, he thought.
His steps quickened a little and he began to run the rest of the way home.
You can read more of Sloanranger’s work on Wattpad. Click on the link below to help you find your way to more of her stories and poems.