By Linda Ibbitson Hurd
Special to the Express
In Hanson, where I grew up in the 1950s there was a Rexall drug store on Main Street that was in the center of our small town.
My best friend, Rose, and I were ten when our mothers started letting us ride our bikes to the drug store on Saturday mornings. With our meager allowances we sometimes got comic books or looked at the rack where all the joke gifts were but our favorite place in the store was the soda fountain, where we sat on the chrome stools with the red leather tops to get an ice cream cone or a sundae.
The proprietor, a middle-aged man by the name of Ben Koplosky always seemed to walk through the store when kids were there, watching us like an old hawk. I never thought of him as a friendly person. One Saturday after Thanksgiving we saw him setting up a display of clocks make out of wood that looked like miniature grandfather clocks with pendulums that swung back and forth as the hands ticked away. They were hand painted in pretty colors and priced at seven dollars and ninety-nine cents.
When Rose and I went over to look at them when the display was finished, we were enchanted by them. I found one that I favored and wanted to get it for my mother for Christmas. She worked so hard taking care of us four kids and my baby sister was not yet 2. The price was a bit steep for me but I decided I was going to start saving so I could get it for her.
Every Saturday after that when we went to the drug store I checked to see if the clock I wanted was still there and always picked it up to look at it. I said a prayer every night that it would still be there the next week.
When the day came that I finally had enough money to buy the clock, I was so excited I rode my bike down by myself a little earlier than usual to pick it up. I rushed into the store to look for my clock. To my dismay there were very few left. I looked and looked and a sinking feeling came over me. I walked all around the display in case my clock had fallen onto the floor or was up behind the display. I stood for a very long time and just looked at that display hoping it would just appear.
Ben the owner came out as I turned to leave. He wasn’t too tall and looked at me over his glasses. I was a bit nervous and wondered if I did something wrong. Out from behind his back he pulled out my clock asking, “Is this what you’re looking for?” I couldn’t believe it, I said, “Yes.” I had never remembered him smiling but he was and said that he put it in a safe place for when I came to pick it up. I was mystified as to how he knew anything but being a kid, I didn’t ask questions. I gave him the money and he gave me a bag to put the clock in.
“Ride slowly and keep it safe now,” he said. I promised him I would and he wished me a Merry Christmas. I said it back to him as I almost ran out of the store with the most inexplicable feeling of joy.
When I Heard Penny Sing
t was a Sunday night before Christmas in 1962. I was 15 and my sister Penny was 12. We had two younger siblings, David, 9, and Barbara, 6.
We belonged to the Hanson Baptist Church and that night our family was going to a candlelight service that Penny was part of. It was not uncommon for Penny and I to be arguing or fighting over something, most anything would do and me being the older sister Penny just loved getting on my nerves. I didn’t want to go to the service and couldn’t see why they all couldn’t go without me but my mother insisted and I knew if I protested my father would get involved and that would make matters worse so I complied.
As we were getting ready Penny and I had an argument because she took a pleated wool skirt I planned to wear and didn’t even ask. I was so angry as she always stretched the waistband in my clothes and ruined them for me. I went into her room where she was getting dressed and told her I wanted my skirt back and made a grab for it. She was bigger and taller than I and packed a mighty punch, which she shared often. I pushed her and she fell between the bed and the wall. She kicked me and I knew if I had screamed that would bring dad running and it would be bad for us both. I whispered in a nasty tempered whisper for her to let go of my skirt. She grit her teeth and in a mean whisper told me she had nothing to wear and I had all the good clothes. I did a slow boil and wanted to pull her blonde ponytail but didn’t. I whispered again for her to give me my skirt. She snarled back, put it under her and sat on it. I went to find my mom.
I tried to be calm and not whine when I told mom what was going on. She said she would take care of it and told me to go to my room. She came in a few minutes later with the skirt and told me to get dressed. Penny had to go out and feed her horse, Lady, before she got ready. She opened the door to my room as she passed by and snarled that I was a no good rotten tattletale. I told her she deserved what she got. To my surprise she didn’t slam the door.
When we finally were on our way to the church, mom put my little brother and sister between Penny and I in the back seat, for which I was relieved. I noticed Penny wasn’t giving me dirty looks or hissing at me, she just looked out the window and was very quiet during the ride.
Once we were inside the Sanctuary other people came in greeting one another warmly. There was a happy, festive yet peaceful atmosphere with a very special feeling filling the church. White candles were aglow all over the room as we all sat in the cushioned pews.
As the service started and the choir sang, out walked Penny. She was wearing a white choir robe and her silky blonde hair shone as it fell around her face. Her cheeks were pink and her light green eyes filled with happiness. There was a pause and a hush as the Minister nodded to her.
She began to sing “Silent Night” in the most beautiful angelic voice I couldn’t believe was coming out of her. It seemed like there was a halo around her head and I reasoned it was the candles behind her that was making it look that way until I realized there were no candles directly behind her. A light seemed to radiate all around her as she sang out to the Congregation.
Much to my surprise tears filled my eyes and my heart swelled with pride.
In that moment I began to wonder if she behaved the way she did sometimes because she wanted my attention, my approval. Maybe if she had it things might be different between us. The truth, if I was different, things might change for the better.
When the service was over I ran out to the back of the church where Penny was hanging her choir robe back up in the big closet. I told her I was proud of her and that her singing was beautiful. She said, “really?” I said.
I smiled at her and said, “you’re not so bad for a sister.’ She pushed me gently in the shoulder saying, ‘You’re not so bad either.”
(Linda Ibbitson Hurd is a Halifax resident who grew up in Hanson and from time to time writes about her childhood memories. She shares these remembrances of Christmases past with our readers. Look for Part 2 next week.)