THE SHOP ON THE CORNER

The shop on the corner is one of my favourite places; its prices are high, the cans on the shelves are most often covered with dust and of dubious vintage but it is still one of my favourite places. It's hard to say why; perhaps it is the sweet girl behind the counter whose smile lights up my day. Perhaps it is because it's here alone, always losing money, a relic of the thirties. It is surely not because of the ambience - quite frankly I saw a mouse skitter by my foot just the other day.

No, I think it's because like me, it's a derelict lost amid the glitter of the 1980's. And, while a pack of cigarettes (and yes, my dear yuppies I smoke; I'm 69 years old and I refuse to give into the tyranny of the majority, cantankerous me!) may cost me $4.50, why just the other day I bought me a can of beans for 35 cents.

Beat that Loblaws. I think that can was older than my grand-nephews, but I ate it and survived so it's a good deal.

Now I'm sure you're all wondering what an old man like me would be going on about a broken down old corner store like that. 'What's the attraction?' you ask. Well, it's partly because it's close to my flat. I go there every day for a smoke or a coke or a 6/49 ticket though what I'd do with a million bucks now I don't know. It must be the thrill of the chase. But I digress.

You see I walk downstairs, cut through the park past the lovers, the muggers and dope dealers, sneak through Morgan's backyard (he hates it but we're war buddies so we just swear at each other when he catches me), turn left at the bum by the lights and head down Front Street. Easy as you please.

How many times I've done that walk through rain, or shine, sleet, hail or dark of night like the proverbial postman I've made that round. Old Moe don't keep that store open late any more on account of the robber ten years back. Says knives at his throat aren't good for his blood pressure. I can dig it, as my kids used to say. That is, before they decided that love and freedom don't buy a BMW. Listen to me ramble!

Yah, me and Moe go back a long way. His dad, after the war, he had a heart attack and gave him the store to look after. And how Moe hated that! He had big plans, he did, and with his veteran's benefits why he could've gone to university and he was going to, but instead he chose a life like his father had: he took the free house, a store and a wife. Now he's a shopkeeper who's training a beautiful daughter who sure as the sun rises will sell the place when he's dead. 'Cause that's the way they are nowadays.

No, my first memories of the store go back to when I took the house that Veteran's Affairs gave me - it was no great shakes but who was I to complain what with a beautiful wife I hardly knew but knew enough to make her pregnant, and a job in a department store stocking shelves. The great warrior home again. Then I was just two blocks down the street. My war house is a condominium now just like my neighbours' houses. As good old Doris used to say: Que Sera, Sera.

I'd go down to that store when the babies got to crying. I'd nip out for a pack of cigarettes and some milk or butter or pablum. Didn't matter what, Hettie knew. She was a saint, I tell you, God rest her soul. And me and Moe, we'd pass the time of day, never talk of the war 'cause we'd seen too much blood then, but we'd give the government the once over and Moe, every day he'd tell me a joke he'd heard just a couple of hours before. He'd write them down, every one he did and if he'd had a dry day, well he'd just haul out one I'd forgotten. I'm no damned good at remembering them jokes. But Moe, a memory like crystal he's got. Yah, we had good times then.

The fifties passed us by, Moe got a television in '62 I think it was, and every night he'd come down from the flat upstairs (his writer's attic he called it, though I never read a word of his) and we'd watch the world in blue light. We saw lots on that old t.v., that is 'til the day that dumb drunk McCormick knocked it off the stand and exploded it on the floor. Moe said it was worth it, seeing it go bang with a flash of light like that. Mind you, he didn't buy a new one, just brought back the old radio and we'd listen to the big band on CFMO.

My son John, he got a job there sweeping floors at twelve for 50 cents a day. That was before he grew his hair long and started condemning a war we weren't even involved in. Moe got a daughter in '63 - he and his wife they'd just about given up on having children then they'd tried for so long, but there she was and them married 16 years. My kids were 16, 13 and 11 at that time. Moe you'd think was the first father ever, what with tiny Marion taking his time and his heart - the day she was born, that was the first day he'd closed that store of his and every year on her birthday he closes it down. Moe's a grandpa now, just this past year, and his girl she's got no husband but he don't mind. A grandson's a grandson he says and he's right. So now the store's closed on January 9th as well as on May 23rd. I told him he better not have any more relatives or I'd just take my business elsewhere on account of his being closed all the time.

Well Moe, he's never been that much of a good friend you know, not the kind you take out bowling or spend up late at night talking to on a weekend. No, he's only been to my place once, that dark day in mid-winter of '75 when my Hettie died. Yah, he just brought a bottle of wine and a candle to light for her soul so's she could see the way to heaven, he said, and then, well he just listened. When the wine was done, me I brought out the medicinal whisky, that's what Hettie called it anyways, and we drank, him saying nearly nothing, me talking things I'd never told my wife nor children. And when the whisky was done and the sun was coming up all reds and oranges he hugged me and went on home. The store opened up at 9:00 as usual that day and life, well it went on. A little emptier for me, but still it went on just the same. And Moe said no more about that night. A man's got his dignity you know, and what's said in grief's a private thing.

Me, I retired in '82 and I did what was a life long hobby and furthermore, was my dream. I paint pictures now, pictures of all sorts of things. I'm happy as can be, considering, and my house I sold to a conglomerate so's they could tear down all those memories for a twenty story testimony to prosperity in Ontario for my kid's colleagues. Bought me a lot of paint it did, but it's pretty nearly gone now. Should've held out longer like the Johnsons and got twice as much but those empty rooms spoke too much history.

I needed someplace small and bright so's I could paint and so I got myself a pretty good place here. One whole floor of a house, paintings stacked up three high all over the walls 'cause I've never figured out how to go about selling them - I give them gifts to all my family and friends. At least they don't sit here gathering dust. And maybe they're no good - who knows? I'm no Alex Colville but I love what I do and I do what I love so I'm rich. What more could I ask?

Today I'm wrapping one up that I finished just the other day - it's from a picture I took once back in the fifties when Hettie got me a Polaroid camera. It's a picture of a store with a man in an apron standing out front and up over his head is a faded sign, now freshly painted in my picture that reads "Hasselbaum's Groceteria" with a union jack hanging in the window. And I'm taking it down to Moe's house where I've never been, 'cause now there's a sign on the door that says "Due to illness we are closed until further notice" and I saw Marion loading up the stock off the shelves 'cause she wants to run a dress store of her own design.

My friend Moe, he's 72 and older than me, why he's not feeling too good these days, on a waiting list for a bed in the hospital and the doctor told him he'd better not go back to that store on account of his blood pressure. So he's retired now like me, and for the first time, I'm going down to his house and have a talk and maybe a whisky if he's up to it. He's said he's saved me a carton of cigarettes too. And we'll talk about old times and new times to come once he's back up on his feet and his wife she'll tsk tsk at the ashtray and frown at me, and I'll give him my painting.

'Cause the shop on the corner was one of my favourite places, reminiscent of times gone by. Maybe Moe'll tell me one of his jokes; it may be a little tired and worn, but so are we. Aren't we?

--30--

1988 Catherine M. Harris Davies