Copyright 2017 Mario V. Farina
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Mario V. Farina
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It was a pleasant Saturday morning in April, 1939. The sun was shining and there were no signs of rain. I was living in a dorm belonging to Union College. It was located on Union Street in Schenectady. I exited the front door of the building intending to pick up some 35 mm film at The Photo Lab on State Street. From Union Street, I walked to Erie Boulevard, then south to State Street. I had on black slacks, a white shirt, and a light blue turtle neck sweater. I enjoyed walking and did a little every morning before classes.
Ten minutes later, as I reached State Street, the sky suddenly became sodden with a charcoal-gray cloud and it began raining lightly. I found myself near the door of a Woolworth Five and Ten Cent Store. I ducked inside barely missing the fierce deluge that immediately followed.
At Five and Ten Cent Stores in those days, for only a few cents, one could purchase many useful products, made in the U.S.A. I had not often visited a Woolworth store. They were too cluttered for me, too laden with items made of cloth, too feminine in motif. I thought of it as a store that sold needles and thread, lace and patterns, that kind of unexciting thing. Now, I was here because I had no choice. It was raining furiously and, though it was still morning, the outdoor world looked as if nightfall had swallowed the city.
Sullenly, I began meandering through the store. I barely glanced at the dresses, slips, and other feminine apparel. I hastily passed the sewing needs, and came to the area where kitchen products were sold. It was then that I first caught sight of Amanda and froze in mid-step. She was beautiful, but that is not what had brought me to a standstill. It was something else. I felt a lightness in my head. The store and everything in it swirled alarmingly, slowly at first, then more rapidly. My legs felt weak. I leaned against a counter while waiting for full control to return. The word epiphany invaded my brain. I had learned that the word referred to a sudden awareness of a truth. That was it! I was having an epiphany! The woman I was gazing at, was an individual who had been planned to be part of my life, only I had never known it!
She was wearing a black dress with an embellished collar. Her hair was auburn with a sort of bun at the back. Her lips were red. She was talking to a customer. I watched as she spoke, smiled, and gestured. To me, she represented the epitome of charm and graciousness. My thoughts filtered out everything that was happening around me. Nothing else mattered. My brain had trained an ethereal spotlight on her and would not let go.
To this date, I don’t understand how I was able to approach her. I found myself facing and desiring to speak to this young woman without knowing what I was going to say.
She spoke first. “May I help you sir,” she asked smiling?
I looked into her eyes and nearly lost consciousness. I put my hand on a railing to steady myself. “I-I-I’d like to buy something,” I muttered.
She smiled again. “Certainly, sir,” she said. “What would that be?”
“I-I-I’m not sure,” I stumbled.
“Are you looking to buy a gift,” she asked patiently?
“No, not really,” I said clumsily. Some common thing. “Something useful, I guess.”
“Something for the bathroom?”
“Something you can use in a dining nook?”
“Yes, oh yes! I guess so.”
“We have all sorts of charming China, knives and forks, tableware, salt and pepper shakers,” she suggested rhythmically.
“That sounds good,” I said. “I’d like some of that.”
“Some of what, sir? China, knives, forks.”
“Something to drink coffee with. I’d like that!”
“We have some inexpensive cups for coffee, with matching saucers. Would that interest you?”
“Oh yes, that would interest me very much. I’ve always wanted a coffee cup with a matching saucer!” Since I didn’t drink coffee, I immediately realized what an incongruous remark that had been.
She turned. Rummaging under a counter of some sort, she brought out a white cup and saucer. “Here is something you might like, sir,” she said. “These are very popular this season. And, they’re not expensive, only fifteen cents for a two-piece set.”
I glanced at the set. “That’s exactly what I was looking for,” I remarked.
“Wonderful, sir,” she said. “I’ll put the set in a bag for you.”
“Ma’am, you don’t have to call me sir,” I managed to articulate. “My name is, Ralph Bentley. You can call me Ralph.”
“Thank you for that, Mr. Bentley,” she said in a most beguiling manner. “I’ll call you Ralph from now on.”
“May I ask your name?” I asked boldly, but quaking violently inwardly.
“I’m Amanda Thompson,” she replied. She handed me a paper bag that I assumed contained my purchase. I had not observed her putting anything in the bag. But then, I had not been observing much of anything at that time except her.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’ve been very pleased with your service, and will recommend you to my friends!”
“I’m happy about that, Ralph,” she responded. “Come to Woolworth again soon!”
I took the bag she handed me, dug into my pocket and found fifteen cents. “Oh, by the way,” I said, “I have a friend, well, almost a friend, that I think would like a beautiful cup and saucer set like the one you selected for me. May I have another?”
“Yes, sir, I mean, Ralph. Let me get one.”
While she was doing that, I had recovered most of my social courage and bravery. I felt nearly fully at ease talking to this affable woman. She couldn’t have been a great deal more than eighteen or nineteen years old, so young but so savoir faire! I was enthralled. I couldn’t lose her now. A thought occurred to me.
Amanda put another set of the two items in another bag. and I paid for it. “I’ve just started a new hobby,” I said, “collecting coffee cups. Would you please calculate how much I would have to pay for one hundred more sets just like these two I’ve just purchased.”
“You want one hundred more sets for a collection,” she asked incredulously?
“For a hobby you just started?”
“Yes, that I started just now!”
“Coffee cups? Why coffee cups? Why not stamps?”
I thought quickly. “Stamps are dull; coffee cups are unique,” I stated. They come in various colors, and sizes. They have all kinds of designs. If I start a collection today, I’m sure it will be worth a great deal in the future. Are you good with numbers. Can you easily compute the cost, one hundred times fifteen cents?
“Oh, yes,” she emphasized. “I’m a part-time student at Whitmore College, working toward a degree. Math is one of my best subjects. One hundred times fifteen cents is fifteen dollars.”
“You made that calculation in your head, Amanda,” I commented while, at the same time, displaying great astonishment !
“That was an easy problem,” she said. “It would have been much more difficult if the problem had been 15 times a number like 87 or 49.
“Fifteen dollars is a small expense with which to start a new hobby,” I commented. “I would like to buy one hundred more sets.”
“I’ll check to see if we have that many in stock,” she said.
A middle-aged man, slight of build, sparse of hair, in a dark blue suit, came to where Amanda and I were discussing the purchase, and asked, “Miss Thompson, is everything all right here? Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Everything is fine, Mr. Wendelken,” responded Amanda. “This customer has just purchased one hundred China sets, and I will have to box them for him. May I do that in the storeroom?”
Mr. Wendelken seemed thrilled. “Of course, of course,” he emphasized. “While you’re doing that, I’ll assign another person to your counter. Carry on!” He walked briskly away.
“Amanda, can I help you pack them,” I asked.
“I should’ve asked permission,” she said. “I don’t think he’d mind. Let’s do it.”
It was ten a.m. when we started; we finished exactly at noon. Amanda and I ate at the store’s lunch counter. We went Dutch, and spent seventy-five cents each. The box we had packed was heavy and we needed to wheel the cart to the shipping dock. Amanda said she would make arrangements to have the box delivered free of charge to my home the next day. I had enough cash to pay for the purchase.
During the time that Amanda and I had spent packing the cups, we had engaged in pleasant conversation on many topics. We also made a date for the following Friday night when we planned go see a Charlie Chaplin movie at Proctor’s and have a bite to eat at the White Tower on Nott Street.
We dated for a couple of years during the time we each completed our education; were married, settled into small apartment in Niskayuna, became employed, and began building a family. I served in the U. S. Army for three years during World War II.
Today was my one-hundredth birthday. One of our granddaughters arranged a party for me at the Olive Garden. Amanda, who is now ninety-six, sat at my side. There were ninety-one persons seated at various tables set for children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and, in several instances, husbands and wives. I had made a request that was granted. The box containing my collection of one hundred sets of cups and saucers, which had never been opened, was unpacked, and each guest was given one to put on their table as part of their place setting. These cups, with a touch of champagne at the bottom, was used as a toast in Amanda’s and my honor.
The first piece that the musicians played was, “I Found My Million-Dollar Baby at the Five and Ten-Cent Store,” which had been written and published by Billy Rose, Harry Warren, and Mort Dixon in 1931. This piece can be heard on Youtube.