Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve in Calvert

Christmas in Calvert
Top: Gift Wrapping in Conitz Dry Goods Store
Middle: Conitz Dry Goods Store After It Was Rebuilt The Last Time
Bottom: Keeling Grocery At Christmas After Remodeling

I was going to design a nice Christmas card to go on my blog today. But, when I started drawing in my sketchbook, the top drawing is what resulted! (Look on Virginia Vaughan's blog today, for a nice Christmas design. Her design was used on t-shirts for her school's choral group .)

Instead of a card, I remembered Christmas at the store. In both stores, the two that I remember, one before the last fire, and the rebuilt store, we were busy at Christmas and the arrangement was basically the same. The whole family and several clerks worked. The store stayed open until all the possible customers had left Main street. So Santa Claus came to see us after the store closed and the various families could make it to our house for cookies, sandwiches, chips, and soft drinks, and egg nog. They came bearing many packages. From the store, we always got gifts wrapped in the store boxes that had once held ladies hankies, panties, slips, or, sometimes a larger box that held several pairs of snuggies, if you were getting something like a blanket. Everyone received a small thread box with money-$1 to $5.
We grew up around the store. In my drawing, I have shown two little girls behind the counter, standing by Toot. Grandma is bent over, putting ribbon on a package while another person brings items to wrap to the counter. A customer's child watches from the other side of the counter. Grandpa is sorting through a stack of blue jeans, looking for the right size, while two customers wait. Under the counter, you can see layaway packages and a box full of ribbons used to decorate the packages. We saved all the bows from our Christmas and birthday gifts and added those to the box of bows at the store. There was a roll of string, a roll of brown butcher paper, a roll of white butcher paper, assorted paper sacks, scissors, a yard stick, tape measure, scotch tape, etc. under the counter opposite the cash register, for everyday wrapping of packages.
The daybook and journal are on the counter in the foreground along with some items that were typical purchases. Handerchiefs, Atom Bomb perfume, Royal Crown hair dressing, and towels.
On top of the cash register is the little Cupie type doll that advertised Lee overalls, with a little engineers cap. (The cash register is still being used in Mud Creek Pottery!) There was another little Cupie doll that had on western jeans.
We had some standard wrappings with some strips of ribbon, taped on the back. Sometimes a flat bow was added. Irvin had a little twist of ribbon that he usually did, that reminded me of a man's tie. And then there were the pre-made bows. And another bow that was made something like a figure 8. Grandma showed me how to curl certain types of ribbon by sliding the scissors along the underside. We had to do them kind of fast, if there were a lot of customers coming in to pick up packages or shopping at the last minute when they felt they could let go of their money.
I preferred gift wrapping and decorating to waiting on customers or using the cash register. I was always afraid I would make a mistake with money, so I sweated bullets every time I had to use the cash register. And I was shy, so it was hard to wait on people. Even after all those years and growing up helping around the store. But, if I had a pleasant customer that I knew, and they were patient, and I was successful in helping them find what they wanted, and visited with them, then that was okay. Barbara remembers starting out as a tiny little girl, watching for shoplifters. We all were watching for that, along with our other duties.
As business in town declined, hours at the store were shorter. But, they still tried to stay open later to accomodate potential shoppers. And they hired less help. Some of us could stay at home and get ready for Santa Claus to come on Christmas Eve.

I still remember one cold Christmas, probably the early 60s, before Grandma died. She was deaf, and had hardening of the arteries. She loved her sweet treats, which her daughter thought was bad for her, so she didn't get any. That Christmas Eve, Grandma seated herself at our house near the kitchen door and the gas heater. We opened presents, and Toot, being a bit mischievious, brought over some Mogen David wine. She and Honey had been socializing with a couple of their relatives who introduced them to Mogan David wine for special occasions. Pappy had a fit that wine was in the house! So, Toot asked different people if they wanted some. Thelma said that Grandma couldn't have any. But Irvin and I said "Yes", and had some in one of Toot's mother's wine glasses. We went by Grandma to drink our little glass of wine, to avoid a lecture. (Everyone else had the choice of some plain grape juice with their cookies.)
We took some to Grandma. She said she really liked that grape juice and wanted more. She drank 6 glasses of it! Grandma became very lucid and awake. She had been wanting to go home to make sure her babies were tucked in bed (they were all there, of course, and grown!), but, after the wine, she was up talking and visiting and enjoying herself! (Part of her problem, it turned out, was that she was not getting enough sugar or salt!)
Thelma never did know that we sneaked that wine to Grandma! She was busy talking around the corner and didn't see us. I'm glad that Grandma got to have that small pleasure. I finally told Thelma about it last week, and she laughed.
The middle photo shows the store shortly after it opened after the last fire. This was in the late 1950s. You can see the arrangement of the store, with the cash register in the center. Shown are Irvin, Ellen Carolyn, and Emil Conitz Jr. E.C. was helping out that day. Irvin and Emil were the owners. T. J. Smith is also there. He was originally partners with Emil, then, about Depression times, he opened a grocery store in the back. After the last fire, the dry goods store was rebuilt, but Smith decided not to rebuild the grocery store. He still kept his safe in the store, and stayed around there a lot of the time. He had an outdoor rocking chair in the office area where he rested and did some business. He and Emil married sisters so they were brothers-in-law, but, also, they were life long friends.
In the bottom photo, you can see Keeling Grocery, shortly after being remodeled, and decorated for Christmas. There is an unidentified man on the left. I don't have a name for him, but he replaced Benny Gouger as a clerk when Benny went off to the Army. Also in the back are Mrs. Cloud, Mr. Gouger, and Mr. Cloud, the superintendent of Calvert ISD. Mrs. Keeling ("Toot") is in the foreground, center, and to her right is Mrs. Gouger. On the right is Mrs. Terry. The Clouds and Mrs. Terry were shopping in the store when the photographer came. Mr. Keeling, ("Honey") is leaning on the produce bin in the background.
The photo at the end of this post shows the interior of Keeling Grocery, decorated for Christmas, but looking from the back to the front of the store. You can see some of the items on the shelves, that they sold back then.
I'm sure that some of you share similar memories.
The years have become so different. This year, we decided not to do gifts, except for the grandsons. We plan to get together tonight, those of us who are left, and have presents for the boys, and have sandwiches and cookies. Tomorrow we will go over to the nursing home for cookies with Thelma, and then, possibly, Barbara and I will take our drawing materials and draw for the residents who are there. They seemed to enjoy watching us when we were sketching.
The boys are going to see that new dog movie, with the oldest grandson going back to work for a few hours. He had stitches out this morning after his ankle surgery.
So much for big family Christmas dinners and doing things that make nice memories. I guess that we didn't really think that we were doing that much when we were growing up, either. At the time, I thought that it was pretty boring and wished my friends were around to liven things up. And, I thought that our Christmas was pretty lacking of the merriment and decorations that we saw in some homes and in the movies. We seemed to spend most of our time at the store, with maybe a couple of programs and a cantata at church, a program at school or band concert to participate in, maybe something at the City Hall. But, looking back, I guess it was more like a picture than we thought it was at the time.
I had a time getting Christmas cards done this year. I couldn't drive to get to the store to buy them. Finally got my daughter to take me to pick out cards. I did work on mailing lists and labels, while I was waiting. I am doing Thelma's for her, too, so that makes a lot of cards. And, since I don't know a lot of the people she has corresponded with, I'm not sure what to say, or which ones might have moved or, possibly, may not be alive. I went to the internet to check addresses and look for some obits! And, wouldn't you know, the computer had problems. Couldn't get on the internet for but just a few minutes at a time, for days.
So, I decided to write a general letter on the computer and insert that in with her cards, then just add a note to people who I knew needed a letter. Printed out a few pictures to send to a couple of people. But, the computer had other ideas. First, I couldn't get it to print but one copy at a time, and had to reset with each letter. Then, I couldn't get into the documents. Then the photo thing quit working. Got all those computer things working again, sort of, and started printing. Ran out of ink!
I told my daughter to just go to town and pick up the cartriges and stamps. But, no. She insisted that I had to go, when I should have been putting cards into envelopes! We got stamps at Walgreens, then went to Walmart for a two pack of cartriges. Big mistake. It took 3 hours of fighting lines and trying to get someone to open the case, to get that one little item! (No one was in the jewelry section. If I were buying gifts, I would have chosen jewelry this year, just due to the lack of long lines of impatient people!)
Then the glue wasn't sticking on the envelopes, so I used a glue stick to seal my envelopes. It's been one thing after the other! I finally finished up the last of Thelma's cards at 3 a.m. and they went in the mail this morning. I haven't even started mine, except to gather everything and make mailing labels!
I usually don't get into the Christmas mood until Christmas Eve. I kind of like the hustle and bustle, and think it is nice to write Christmas messages on Christmas Eve-by a fireplace with hot chocolate. Of course, it is usually too warm here for a fire in the fireplace! Just imagining how things should be, I guess.
So, if you are supposed to receive a card from me, I guess it will turn out to be a New Years card! I've got my cards, my labels, and stamps, so I'm going to still try for a Christmas or Christmas Eve postmark. And, those of you who read my blog, can consider my blog as my Christmas greeting to you!

Merry Christmas
to you and yours!


Ciara Gold said...

Thank you as always for sharing so much of the past with us and Merry Christmas.

BC said...

Ahhh... this is how I learned to warp a present!