Owning and managing a grocery store is not a job, it is a life. Your days and nights are consumed with choosing the best produce, quality meats, the freshest breads. Hiring and maintaining a well-skilled butcher is challenging; your competitors constantly seek out and steal away the best of the best.

But none of the daily grinds of buying, selling and managing contend with the nail-biting spying of pickpockets; especially the well-dressed, tea-sipping kind.

Hazel had, should we say, a slip-of-the-hand habit. Though financially comfortable in life, she loved a bargain, especially the ones for free. And for some odd reason, Hazel found many good deals as she grocery shopped at Old Mr. Smith's neighborhood store. Of course she never imagined her stashing and swiping as stealing. She just assumed if the items looked interesting then they begged to be sampled and surprisingly, her big purse held a lot of samples.

Catching hot-handed bandits in grocery stores involved a keen eye by store owners in mid-twentieth century. It was an era before cameras and computerized laser eyes buried inside doorways. The Mr. Smiths of the small town grocery stores had to stay one step a head of the high-heeled larcenists, even if that meant hiding behind stacks of Coca Cola bottles in order to spy the thieves. And Hazel's little habit kept Mr. Smith sneaking and hiding and spying for years.

So what does a small town grocer do with such thievery? Call Barney Fife and have high-heeled Hazel hauled to jail?

No. The mid-twentieth century grocer patiently kept a running tab of Hazel's extra loot, occasionally passed to her son for payment. A silent agreement made and delivered in a time in America when Andy Griffiths were sheriffs and local families owned grocery stores and Hazels were allowed to play out their eccentricities. A time of small town innocence; an era that died with black and white televisions, soda jerks and Aunt Bea.

New Years bring hope and renewal but our family history keeps us anchored. Holidays bring families together providing an opportunity for sharing and reminiscing of family stories, which is how I learned of my Aunt Hazel's secret grocery tab. So secret, even she didn't know about it!

I have peeled into my family history during the last year and made remarkable discoveries. I took lineages deeper and realized a couple of my own research mistakes. And I have learned more stories of the ancestors of my childhood. It has been a good year for genealogists and I expect even greater possibilities for the years to come.

Like everything else, blogs mature, change and evolve and I expect this blog to change during the next year. With this mind, I have decided to open my blog to visitors while publishing my own stories monthly. If you would like to write about a new genealogical website you stumbled across or a research tip that helped you uncover an ancestor or perhaps you would like to write your own family story, then send me an email at: Cheryl@searchingforgrandfathers.com. Attach your well-written, 500 word or less story to the body of the email and if it is appropriate for this blog, then you may see your story in print.

Have a wonderful New Year and keep searching for answers,

Cheryl

 

The Prize

06/17/2012

 
The teacher's voice echoed faintly in the boy's thoughts as his mind drifted to the filtered music of the carnival five blocks away. The ten-year-old fingered the coins in his pants pocket. He counted and added each nickel in his head: his version of a daily math assigment.

"Remember to bring in your English papers tomorrow," the teacher said as the children shoved themselves through the door. The boy never turned to take notice of the teacher's reminder; his trifling interest in school stolen by the calling of the distant carny workers.

The boy slapped his tam on his head and ran out the schoolhouse door as he raced to make it to the fair before it closed. It took months working at Ol' Mr. Tankersly's grocery store to earn enough extra change to play the carny games.

"Spend your money on new boots," the boy's mother reminded him as he stared at the County Fair advertisement in the local newspaper earlier that summer.

The boy obeyed his mother and he happily purchased new lace-up boots with his earned cash. But now, the leftover change clanking in his pants sang a song of excitement for the autumn fair.

"Come on in boy and see what you can win," the lanky mustached man said through his open grin. The boy entered the carnival, his eyes wide and smiling. He heard about carnivals from the other children but could never afford them in previous years. His sudden wealth of nickles gave way to feelings bursting of boldness as he scanned his eyes across rows of alluring carnival games.

"Step up over here boy and win ya' a new BB gun," the carny man said as he gestured to the boy.

The boy stared at the shooting game behind the carny man's stand. He was a good shot--"A perfect shot"--his dad always said as the two squirrel hunted in the Oklahoma hills. With unexpected confidence, he puffed out his chest and moved forward to slap his nickel on the table of the carny man's stand.

Pulling the gun toward his face, the boy steadied his finger on the trigger. The man pointed to the target on the wall behind him. "All ya' need to do is hit the bull's eye boy," he said as he winked.

The boy closed his left eye and sucked in a deep breath. Pop...pop...pop...He lowered the gun and stared at the target. "I did it," he said. "I hit the center of the target."

"So ya' did. Pick out your prize."

The boy scanned his eyes across the shelves of prizes: a cooned skin cap, a box of magician's cards and a swell-looking shiny BB gun. But just as he turned toward the toothy carnival worker, the boy's attention was grabbed by another shelf of prizes: fancy electrical kitchen gadgets.

"Can I take something from that shelf?" the boy asked.

"These are for the older folks," the man answered back, his forehead wrinkled with puzzlement.

 The boy stared at each kitchen gadget, especially enamored with the electrical ones. The sparkling fold-up toaster and its electrical cord fascinated him and he felt hypnotized by its mechanical beauty.

"I want that," the boy said as he pointed his finger toward the toaster.

The carnival man shrugged as he pulled the toaster from the shelf. "Here it is boy. It's all yours," shaking his head.

The boy tucked his prize under his jacket and quickly walked toward his home. I spent my nickels wisely, he thought. Mom will love this new toaster.

Swinging open the front door to his house, the boy ran into their kitchen. "Look what I won at the County Fair, mom," he said to his mother. "Your gonna' love this...a new-fangled fold-up toaster."

The boy's mother took the toaster in hand as he raised it toward her. She stared at her wavy reflection on the toaster's side and inspected the prize with a look of intensity. Smiling toward her son, the woman slowly placed the electrical prize on the kitchen table.

"It's a beautiful toaster, son...but we don't have electricity."

The boy's face dropped. He stared at the toaster sitting next to his mother's freshly canned green beans. The boy sank into a chair, feeling his body would melt around him; his youthful innocence denied by the reality of the Oklahoma depression.

                                    ***

Happy Father's Day dad. I imagine your mechanical brilliance has been refreshed and rejuvenated in Heaven.

With love,

Cheryl
*This story was adapted from one told to me by my father year's ago. Real stories told from the heart, are meant to be repeated.

(All rights reserved. Reprinting of this story is strickly prohibited.)
 
 
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I recently completed a book for my book club. It was not a subject I would have chosen: the author's story of his experiences of an Amazonian tribe. The culture of the remote tribe was vulgar, primitive and at times, I was disgusted by the descriptions of the tribe's crude customs. But as I forced myself to delve deeper into the book, I slowly became engrossed within its story.

And I realized the subject was not at all about the primordial lifestyle of the tribe itself. It was about the tribe's most treasured member; the storyteller.

Through each decade as the tribe was slowly infiltrated by the rubber traders and drug traffickers, their members became disconnected and isolated from each other. Small groups of the tribe were forced to relocate, seperating family members and villagers. But when the storyteller or Hablador appeared, the tribal members quickly gathered around, spellbound by his words.

Why were the Amazonians strangely drawn to the storyteller? He spoke of the mythical stories of their tribe's history. The Hablador weaved stories of centuries old customs that provided the tribal members a sense of who they were and where they came from. His stories kept them grounded to their real selves and he traveled from each disconnected group telling of births, deaths and marriages.

The Hablador was an historian; both tribal and ancestral.

The Irish had their own storyteller; a Seanchai or "bearer of old lore." The Seanchai displayed a certain style of speech and gestures that were peculiar to the Irish folk tradition and passed on tales at ceremonies and community events. They were the "village storytellers;" cementing their townspeople to the traditions and customs of their past.

As I grew surprisingly enthralled with the story of the Hablador of the Amazonian tribe, I became enlightened to the real meaning of genealogy and it's deep and growing interest. As our current environment pushes us farther away from our culture and roots, we search for our ancestors and their stories to keep us grounded to who we are as a tribe.

There is something deeply and inherently rewarding in learning the histories of our ancestors. And as we do, our roots grow deeper. It is a basic and primordial instinct to feel spiritually linked to our customs and culture. And when the stories are retold, we feel we have a stronger connection to not only our past but to the present.

Give your family a sense of who their tribe was and is. Write about your family tales and retell the historical stories, so the next generation can feel a connection to their past.

Become the Hablador; the storyteller of your family's history.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
(Source: The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa)