Holiday Time At The Old Country Store

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While Mother feasted her eyes on gay colors, and ran a rough hand shyly over a modish fascinator that she might look at but hardly possess, Father was engaged with the possibilities of Christmas giving for his wife. There was “Hallowed Hymns,” a sound choice, to balance against the scrapbook she needed for her greeting cards, visiting cards, and her growing collection of trade cards, brightly-colored bits of lithographed cardboard which she pored over on the long winter evenings. Color printing was a novelty. The cards were infinitely desirable, even when frankly commercial. He remembered the one of the Estey Organ Company, showing an angelic but hearty girl-child strumming a harp in a setting not immediately identifiable; but it must have been either Heaven or Brattleboro, Vt. The Estey card was a particular prize because of the Estey reed organ that stood in their own parlor. She had also a choice series of “girls of all nations” put out by Walter A. Wood, who manufactured reapers at Hoosick Falls, New York. Trade cards were all the rage. Willimantic Thread, B. T. Babbitt, J. D. Larkin & Co., of Buffalo—to name just three from among thousands—contributed to this collecting vogue for popular art blended with commercial puffery. There was a beautiful picture card in every package of McLaughlin’s XXXX Glazed Coffee. Since there were eighteen designs in the set, the purchase of seventeen more packages of McLaughlin’s was a practical certainty.

An album was nice for pasting up newspaper poetry if you had enough. And Mother had enough. Columns and pages of it, such as the favorite about the old tramp, haled into court and addressing the judge:

Whar did I lose my leg? At Spottsylvania. Perhaps you’ve read about that bloody fight. But then I guess the story won’t restrain you From doin’ what the laws sets down as right.

through

I served as private in the Tenth New Jersey,

down to His Honors’ ringing verdict:

The sentences is that all your life your camp’ll Be in the best room in my humble home!

The judge was, inevitably, the crusty old colonel whose life the soldier had saved at Spottsylvania.

Yes, it was a sentimental age, and Mother did not lag behind her times!

Since this was a day of reconnaissance. Father did not make final decisions on major matters. Just to cover the situation to a degree, he purchased a match safe for the kitchen wall, an almanac for the New Year, and a “dressy comb.” Such slight purchases did not call for unrolling the heavy brown straw wrapping paper, mounted like a roller towel, with a stationary blade that sheared the paper off in the length wanted. There were bags for small articles, with red and blue stripes on them, magazine in a rack overhead. The clerk reached them down in a single sweeping motion of the arm and tied them up beside the beehive twine-holder, filled with “Tea Twine,” a nice handy cotton twine.

 

Advertising did not play a great part in the fortunes in the country storekeeper. “Advertising don’t take the place of dustin’,” as one successful rural merchant said, a man who diligently dusted all his foodstuffs, in fact his whole stock, every morning. But the store owner usually had palm leaf fans in the summertime to give away with his name and address imprinted on the fan. And the paper bags that Father got for carrying his little purchases did carry a message of an institutional character, like the bags of F. H. Dean, who conducted a store for forty years at Monkton, Vermont. They were ornamented with an imposing cut of a large fierce eagle, and the legend:

Let the eagle scream And buy your goods of F. H. Dean Honest Weight And Honest Merchandise.

Being a man of rectitude in financial matters, and having shared substantially during the crop year in the McKinley Prosperity he had voted for, Father look the occasion to settle his account. He remembered how he had read in Willard’s Almanac as a boy the advice to the farmer for December: “Settle all your accounts this month; collect what’s due you, if you can; and pay what you owe, which will not be difficult if you have the money. Short settlements, it is said, make long friends, and there is nothing like a good start with the year.”

It was a deep satisfaction to see written in the store’s great ledger in Father’s own handwriting, the words: “Settled and made even all Book accounts to this date ” followed by the formal ink signatures, the merchant’s and his own. Now the new year would begin properly.