Lexington Glory Days
“Should we get sugar, or some canned goods or coffee this weak? Joe asks Gertrude, ”or maybe some cheese?”
“I know you like coffee, I don’t drink it, and we don’t really need the sugar, but we might not be able to get it the next time were here,” she replies, trying to anticipate what she might need.
“Can’t buy sugar this week,” the grocer tells them, “sorry, I gotta post it, but I sell what they give me to sell. No sugar and no meat this week. I got cheese and canned goods though. You can get that if you got your ration books and stamps, without the stamps I can’t even sell it to you.”
The grocery store, with its gray wooden slat floor, has lots of food items on off-white metal shelves that sit no higher than five feet off the floor, for easy reaching. The aisles are narrow, and the carts are small to fit through the rows.
“No meat again? Damn,” Joe looks the grocer disappointed. The grocer returns his look and shrugs. Familiar now with the shortages Joe ignores the grocer and starts talking to Gertrude.
“We need canned goods more than we need cheese, but maybe we could get a half pound of cheese,” Gertrude suggests looking up and down the shelves in the store, “for a treat.” She thinks over the price, unsure about the purchase and the choices rationing has forced everyone to make.
“Get whatever you think,” her dad tells her leaving her in charge, “you do the cooking. You know what we need and what we don’t.”
They buy three pounds of coffee that’s on sale for fifty-nine cents and a dozen oranges for nineteen cents, butter, eggs, flour, and canned goods.
“Town is busy today,” Joe says to his daughter, carrying their bags of groceries and walking out of the market onto the sidewalk. Cars cruise by in both directions.
“A lot of strange faces. I know there’s a lot of people from town I don’t know, but seems like there’s a lot of people around that don’t look like they belong here,” eyeing them from the corner of his eye.
Surprised, Gertrude replies, “Maybe more folks have moved here.”
“Maybe. Why they just hanging around though?” He wonders.
There’s a half dozen vagrants in tattered, dusty and dark colored ragged clothes, a few with caps, scattered around town, leaning on buildings and loitering. A man walking past them bumps into Joe. He reaches his arm out and looks at them, excuses himself for the incourtesy, and keeps walking, smiling, swinging his arms widely at his side.
“I need to stop at the bank before we go back home,” Joe tells Gertrude, “and after, we can stop for a beer and a soda at the saloon. I’d like to talk to some of the men and kinda see what’s going on in town a little bit.”
They cross the dusty Main street and walk into the bank on the other side. At the teller window Joe fumbles for his wallet from out of his worn back pocket. “My billfold! My billfold’s gone!” he tells Gertrude puzzled, as he reaches into his other pockets. “Damn!” he exclaims, stomping the floor with one foot. “Gone?” Gertrude repeats. “You just had it daddy. You must have dropped it coming out of the grocery store. Let’s go back and look.”
“It aint no where here!” Joe says sullenly, looking all around the dirt road, “I’ll check inside the store. Maybe the grocer found it. You keep looking.”
“I saw you out the window after you left,” the merchant tells him, “that man who bumped into you, you know him?” The shopkeeper waits for an answer.
“Never seen him before far as I know, why?” Joe asks him.
“I don’t know him either and I know just about everybody who comes into town. I think you mighta got robbed. You been pick- pocketed.”
Joe looks him the eye without any hint of suspicion, still kind hearted and naïve in his worn blue bib overalls, feeling a little foolish. “I shoulda known,” he tells the grocer disheartened, “thanks for your trouble,” and turns to leave to find Gertrude. He places his thumbs behind the straps on his overalls and walks out with his head down.
“No trouble,” the merchant tells him kindly, looking at him and out onto the street. Placing his hands on the counter he shakes his head discouraged as Joe leaves.
“Did you find it?” Gertrude asks eagerly, as her dad approaches her.
“Nope. I think I was pick-pocketed by that man that bumped into me. He might be one of these men that ride the trains and get off wherever there might be work. They call ‘em hobos. They aint got a home or money and they’re desperate, and hungry. Gotta be a little more careful around folks I guess. Be wary of ‘em Gert, especially if you don’t know them, he solemnly warns his daughter. I was gonna buy a war bond with that money too, I had twenty-five dollars in there.”