A Civil Tongue in Your Head!


No, this was not President Trump’s final retort, to Jim Acosta, during the donnybrook in the East Room. But, if you read this little tale, you may find the phase on your lips at socially delicate moments. I report it just as my father tells it. Use with caution, my friends.

A Tale from My Father: The Inquisitive Postmistress

My home township in Pennsylvania had three crossroads villages, each with a general store. Each store had its own personality. The staff was typically small, two or three persons. It would offer canned and dry groceries, plus milk, sodas, and such. I remember the red letter day, in the late 1940’s, when one of them acquired an open top, floor model freezer, and offered, for the first time, Birdseye frozen vegetables.

The canned goods were stored on narrow shelves as high as the ceiling. They were retrieved by a long wooden pole, with a squeeze grip at one end and a grabber at the other, which would be used to tip the can off the shelf, so that it would drop into the clerk’s other hand. This is the origin of the baseball term, “a can of corn!”

The store also purveyed galoshes, muskrat traps, .22 ammunition, 3-in-One oil, and dollar pocket watches, that, in my experience, would tick for about a week.

The nearest such store sold gasoline; the school bus was a customer. Said bus would stop, en route home, and allow the children to run in, to buy penny candy: pinwheels, caramels, green leaves, licorice, anise dolls and non-pareils. They also had the post office concession, and thereby hangs a tale.

Things were sometimes quiet, and one of the staff—a woman well into later middle age, with gray hair pulled back severely, and wire-rimmed glasses—used to read the mail. Postcards were easy, sealed letters she held up to the light. No Stasi agent was more informed than she. especially when she could compare notes with a certain farmer’s wife who had access to a party line.

One time, my middle brother, about age ten, walked in and caught her reading the mail. She looked down at him, and, being well versed in customer relations, said: “What do you want?”

He replied, “A civil tongue in your head!”

That was his finest hour.

Ladies and gentlemen, the story you just read is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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  1. She Reagan

    Oh, I have known many such little spots.  North Rustico, PEI in the mid 1970’s is one of them.  Crossroads: Check.  Two little stores, complete with own personalities, penny candy, galoshes, gasoline, as well as socks, overalls, Creolin, netting shuttles and twine (The Co-Op, and Gallants): Check.  Nosy postmistress (Mary Ann): Check.  School bus, and little children: Check.

    I think the only thing you missed was the [insert nationality, in this case, Royal Canadian] Legion Hall.

    Great story.  Well done, young man.

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  2. Percival Thatcher

    The first town in one direction from Grandma’s farm had a little serial grocery store. “Serial” because it would be open for a few years, close, be reopened by someone with more optimism than economic foresight, be open for a few years, close, etc. Shopping for the weekly needs of a little old lady and her grandson took maybe twenty minutes. Then we’d stop at Mary’s house to buy a dozen eggs. That would take an hour and a half, but we would leave knowing everything we might want to know about what was going on in town, plus a few things more.

    In the other direction, there were two stores in town. Well, kinda. One of them was essentially a post office that sold sundries — at least I assume they were for sale. It might just have been some kind of art installation. I never participated nor witnessed commerce involving that stuff. The other one was Olive Oyl’s store. Olive Oyl wasn’t her real name; it was my family’s nickname for her. I didn’t learn that factoid until I called her Olive Oyl to her face. There was a resemblance. Most everything you might absolutely need was in that store. Some of it had been there since the Truman Administration. Out front of Olive Oyl’s was a phone booth. It was the phone booth that my dad used to call my mom. He used it because it wasn’t on the party line.

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  3. Juliana Member

    When we moved into our small town in Minnesota in 1985, we got a post office box. Having had issues with stolen mail and ruined mailboxes out on the street (no house to house delivery here), it seemed our best option. This post office had specific hours it was open – 8:30 to 11 and 1:30 to 4:00, Mon thru Friday and 8:30 to 10 on Saturday. PO boxes were not accessible except for those hours. Because we worked those hours, it was sometimes a week or two before we would pick up our mail. That would occasion a call from the postmaster – Boyd Bouche – telling me what was in my box, and “don’t you want your tax refund check?” I was very glad to see him retire.

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