This story is about Fred’s unintentional run-in with the neighborhood Hardware Store that was located on Broad and Porter Street in South Philadelphia. The hardware store was a small family owned business. The owners were friendly and their store carried everything needed for both a do-it-yourselfer to a professional contractor. I’ll name the owners of the hardware store, Mr. & Mrs. Brown in order to protect the innocent.
Me on the left outside of Fred's Grocery Store on New Year's Day 1962
My father was a hoarder and he had OCD; a double threat, which led to the conflict with the Browns. Fred had a compulsion to store large quantities of items in case of emergencies. The wooden shelves that held our canned foods were constantly coming loose, spilling cans all over the place. Fred fixed the shelves when he could, but, sometimes he was unable to leave our store and buy the hardware needed to fix the shelves so he handled this problem by buying a large quantity of nails, screw, hooks, etc. from the Browns. No problem right? Wrong!
One day, while I was working next to my father in our little grocery story, a customer came in and mentioned that he was working on his broken kitchen door. This customer had to leave for work within the hour and didn’t have time to go to the hardware store. My father was trying to help, so while I sliced the ham for the man, my father sold him one of his personal boxes of 3”nails. The man was happy, my father was happy and I was clueless; my normal state as a child.
A few days later, same man comes in to buy ham for his lunch. My father was busy in the basement stacking the cases of soda (at that time soda came in glass bottles) and the man asked me for a box of nails. I knew where they were kept and remembered what my father had charged. I found a box of 3” nails and sold it to the man. Everyone was happy right?
Did I forget to mention that Mrs. Brown happened to be in the store at that time to buy milk and bread? She said nothing to me, but the next day, there was a note on the front step of our store. It was from Mr. Brown. He wasn’t happy and had threatened to sell penny candy in his hardware store if Fred continued to sell hardware in the grocery store. My father had no idea what the hell had happened, but he knew who was working in the store the day before. After questioning me and my siblings, my father figured out what had happened.“You kids are going to be the death of me!”
Side note: my parents were quite democratic in dealing with the four desperados that they had created. If one of us did something wrong, we were all punished. Considering how bad we were, I considered this treatment ,fair.
Fred had planned on apologizing to the Browns during the week, but that very day, a neighbor (a busy body who loved to tattle) mentioned that the hardware store had a sign on its window notifying every one of the penny candy now on sale. “You!” my father said as he grabbed my hand and marched me down the street and to the hardware store.
My father and Mr. Brown argued for a bit (rather loudly) until my father convinced Mr. Brown that he had never intended to sell hardware in his store, it had been a one-time favor for a customer. Mrs. Brown saw how upset I was. After all, I was the reason they were arguing, so she grabbed a small paper bag and filled it with candy.
A war was averted, the troops recalled, but Fred preached to me the whole way home. I got off easy that day and I got to eat candy.
Next week’s episode will be on my father’s stockroom, titled appropriately “How not to break your baby sister.”