George Bailey lived on Church Street. We lived there too next to the red brick Congregational Church and he lived across from it. Marlene remembered him because he rang our front doorbell every morning to wake Dad up. They both worked at Gerry’s saw mill on the outskirts of town next to the Kezar River, and he hitched a ride to work with Dad. We never called him Uncle George like our other close-knit neighbors, Aunt Olive and Uncle Killie, Aunt Tessie and Uncle Harold. Mr. Bailey was a bachelor and he lived alone in an old run-down house with a screened in porch in the front. It was hard to see through it when we walked by, and we hurried looking out the corner of our eye for any shadow that moved behind the screen. We thought he might be peeping at us. He was a strange, funny looking man with big coke bottle thick glasses and straggly brown hair. He didn’t have any relatives around and he never had visitors that we could see. We hardly ever saw him or spoke to him and that was okay with us.
It had been about a week since I’d had the bad fall out of the car. You could still see bandages on my nose and forehead, and it was hard to pull down the sleeves of a jacket to cover them up on my hands. I just had to live with them showing until all the scrapes and cuts were healed enough to take them off. But, I still went out in public and to Lovell’s only general store at the end of the street to spend my five cent weekly allowance on penny candy. This particular Saturday, Marlene and her best friend Martha were in the living room playing tea party; I wasn’t interested and didn’t ask to play with them. At the kitchen table Mom and Dad were busy going over bills and talking about money. Dad had a job at the saw mill, but he played trombone in a local band to make extra dollars.
It was early afternoon, still a little cloudy since the spring rain these past two days, and I started to walk down to the general store at the end of the street. I had five cents in my pocket and Ginny, my faithful dog, trotted along beside me. There weren’t any cars on the street and I wasn’t paying much attention to anything on the sides of the road until I heard, “Christine, just a minute.” I looked up and there was Mr. Bailey standing in his driveway. He was about ten steps away and coming toward me. I stopped and Ginny sat down close to my legs to keep an eye on him. I wasn’t scared with Ginny there, and Mr. Bailey wasn’t exactly a stranger. But, just in case there was trouble brewing, all I had to do was say, “Sic him,” to Ginny and Mr. Bailey would be high tailing it back down his driveway to his screened-in porch. I waited with my hand on the back of Ginny’s neck.
Mr. Bailey now about two feet in front of me, looked at me through his coke bottle thick glasses and said, “Heard you had a bad fall. Sorry.”
He opened his hand. “Here’s something for you.” There were two shiny quarters sitting there. Two quarters! I couldn’t speak and stood there staring at them.
He pushed his hand closer to me and said, “Take both of them and buy yourself a present at the general store.”
I tried not to look at him as I carefully took the two quarters from his hand. But, then I remembered my manners, looked straight at him, even smiled, and said, “Thank you Mr. Bailey. That’s very nice of you.”
With that, he smiled back a little, turned around and walked toward his house. I skipped along on my way to the general store. I had a big smile on my face, two quarters and a nickel in my pocket, and ideas of how I’d spend it.
The Kimball-Walker general store was just that. It had candy, clothes, shoes, canned food, Cushman’s boxed donuts, household goods, house and garden tools, and plenty of toys. It was a regular Sears Roebuck catalog right in front of my eyes.
Mr. Kimball was always happy to see me and said, “Heard you had a terrible fall, Chrissy, glad to see you’re doing okay. We’ve got new candy in the case today, some Mary Jane, BitOHoney and Root Beer barrels you like so much. Let me know which ones to put in a bag.”
It was okay for some store people in town like Mr. Kimball to call me Chrissy. Just because we were kids they’d put y, ey, or ie on the ends of all us kids’ nick names. Cousins Sonny and Freddy’s sounded okay, but a Marley and Marthy would sound silly.
“Well, Mr. Kimball, I’m going to look around today before I buy candy. I’ve got some other things in mind to get.”
Mr. Kimball raised his eyebrows, probably wondering what else my usual five cents could buy. Then he saw me walk toward tools and storage. He shook his head and raised his eyebrows again. I picked up a medium sized tin box with a lid, a three battery flashlight, and walked over to first aid and got some cotton balls, gauze, bandages and adhesive tape. I brought them all to the counter and piled them up in front of Mr. Kimball.
Then I asked, “Do you have any of those old empty cigar boxes that you could give me? I’ll need something like that to put the cotton in.”
He put his serious businessman look on, reached up on a shelf and pulled down two empty cigar boxes, and then I watched him add up the cost of the items.
He kept asking me, “Do you know how much this one cost? I don’t want you to get disappointed; it’s probably going to be more than the five cents you have for penny candy. It’s an odd combination of things. I’m curious, what do you want all this for?”
I put on my serious face and explained, “Well, Mr. Kimball, I need all of this to start a clinic. There’s some space in the woodshed next to the icebox and the stacks of wood for Mom’s stove. I got the idea when Doc Randall bandaged me up and I helped; he said I was brave and a real good helper like my Grandma. I’m not old enough to help sick or hurt people, but I can help sick or hurt animals, like birds, chickens, cats and dogs.”
“That’s a wonderful idea, Chrissy, I’m sure you’d be a great little helper of hurt animals. But, the things that you picked, five cents just won’t cover it all.”
I could hardly wait to tell him, “You’re never going to believe what happened to me on the way here. You know Mr. Bailey? Well, he gave me two quarters because I got hurt, and he said to go buy myself a present here. I’d never have saved up enough money for any of this, so wasn’t that great?”
Mr. Kimball scratched his head, scowled and narrowed his eyes. He got busy making more calculations on a piece of paper. And he started talking to me about discounts, sale things and I’d be able to save a lot of money. Then he smiled.
“ Lucky girl, you’re here on sale day. Everything’s going to cost you only forty cents. You still have five cents for penny candy, five cents left over, and your five cent allowance for another day.”
I was really happy, and hard as it was to speak being so excited, I politely thanked Mr. Kimball at least three times. I took the paper bag full of purchases, with my favorite penny candy, off the counter. At the door, I turned around, waved, and thanked him one more time. With the bag tucked under my arm and Ginny trailing me, I ran all the way up Church Street back home to tell everyone how lucky I was.
A few months went by before Dad told me the secret most everyone in town already knew, “Mr. Kimball was a very kind man. The deluxe three battery flashlight alone cost fifty cents. But, he wanted to help you start up your Woodshed Clinic.” Now I knew how come people asked me how’s that Woodshed Clinic doing before I told anybody about it.
Coming soon…Chapter 4 – It Was the Times