A phenomenon of the terrible drought we are experiencing is the superiority of the local peach, melon, tomato, and some other fruit crops being juicy, sweet and delicious as other Southern Illinois produce crops wither and die in the fields. I carefully prepared one of these fresh peaches I had purchased on Saturday, for my lunch Monday. I was being particularly cautious because I had dropped this peach in the store and had put it at eye level, separate from the ones in the produce drawer, so I would use it first. As I peeled and sliced, memories flooded back, both of the peach selection process and childhood standards.
When I was a kid in Edwardsville, there was a store on Main Street located next to Schwartz Drug Store, Foehrkalb’s Fine Gifts (not the exact name, but close). Its owner was Joan Foehrkalb (now Evers). The store was beautiful and carried china, crystal, fine porcelain, and many other delicate gifts. I was a regular in that store and most of it “window shopping.” My trips uptown involved checking out the department stores as well as Foehrkalb’s for new arrivals or checking to see if ones I was watching were still there. Woolworth’s and Ben Franklin Dime Store also carried figurines and other things, Madison Store had fabric (need I say more), and P.N. Hirsch had just about everything.
I collected figurines, starting with my first vacation souvenir from Mammoth Cave circa 1964. It is a small three-piece set of deer – a doe and twin fawns in fine porcelain – one of the few remaining, though glued, out of my collection, a whole other story. From that souvenir forward I requested and received figurines for birthdays, Christmas, Easter baskets and other assorted occasions. I, too, added to my collection myself with figurines (usually in the price range of 25¢ to 75¢) from Woolworth’s or the Dime Store. I would make many trips checking selections and making decisions. At high school graduation I had 177 figurines in my collection. When shopping at Foehrkalb’s, I walked very slowly, keeping my hands by my side, only picking an item up to look at the price on the bottom, after I was intent on saving to purchase myself or adding it to a request from dad if I thought it undoable myself and wait to see if it appeared on a special day.
As I said, I had dropped the peach but bought it, as I do, because despite it not having the feel or aroma I desired, I had made it mine. I find many of the pieces I handle, when choosing produce, have not had other such responsible reviewers. They have obvious bruises from being mishandled or dropped with only a handful of those wounds being from harvest and transport. The one I was peeling, though waiting in the refrigerator two days, still wasn’t as ripe as I would have liked, that is except where my bruising occurred, I was also reminded of how many I had to go through to select the six undamaged peaches in the crisper.
My thoughts wandered back to the trips to Foehrkalb’s and the reason for my timidity in picking an item up to check the price after many visits. On the shelves among all the beautiful gifts in the shop, every few feet were little cards that read,
“Lovely to look at, delightful to hold,
But if it gets broke, we’ll mark it sold.”
Almost all the items in that store, let alone the ones I desired, exceeded my reach and would take up to six months of allowance or more (at 50¢ a week) to pay for them. I had to be very sure of how much I wanted it before checking whether I should save for it, wait for birthday money, or request it as a gift.
I went grocery shopping with my dad almost every week growing up. Almost everything liquid was packaged in glass back then, if you broke it, you bought it. Unlike today, when the stock boy bagging groceries scurries back to replace an item you have damaged. Dad paid for the one broken and the other, I assume it was policy.
In my early 20s, working for Venture, I would pull broken objects out of hiding places behind other products off shelves while zoning. It was a loss for the store, just like shoplifting. The “cost of doing business,” as some make as an excuse, has to be passed on to other consumers in higher prices to cover the losses. One reason my father taught responsibility. I haven’t been perfect, but I am trying.
What happened to that kind of personal responsibility? Though my children shrugged and heaved, as children they witnessed me get them back out of the car to go back into the store to pay for an item I had found I had missed putting on the conveyor at checkout. Their reactions were impatience, but I found it important. As teenagers, I would be sad when they harped, “Just keep it.” I know the warmth of what I had done whether they did or not.
They also accompanied me back into stores to return too much change a clerk had given me. If I had been short-changed I would have expected compensation. Didn’t/doesn’t the Golden Rule apply to the vice versa? It may take me years sometimes to repay a personal debt, but it happens.
I’m not preaching, just mournfully wondering what became of a responsibility to those around us and those that come behind us. The peach I damaged may not have been a ripe as I would have liked, the cinnamon helped, but perhaps the bit of sweetness was from the drought. Either way, I think the sweetness was not putting it back and remembering why. To me, “breaking” fruit is as egregious as if I had dropped one of those figurines in Joan’s store – “Sold!”
I’m wondering; what do you do? Honestly now! Am I the dinosaur my adult children think I am?