Service with a Smile
Post-war and mid-twentieth century America was a time of prosperity and rising affluence in Mount Vernon, yet there was a flexibility in the management of small town stores like Rudin’s that supported the feeling of goodwill. One day in Woolson’s General Store, in the next block up from Rudin’s, my mother held my seven-year-old hand as we looked at the shiny kitchen utensils organized in crocks on the oak wooden counters. Picking up a hand mixer with a handle trimmed in aqua blue Lucite, she casually mentioned that she really liked that egg beater. I loved the way the blades whirred when she turned the crank. The price was $5, worth five long weeks of my allowance. To a little girl who worshipped her mother, this was a revelation worth remembering. After we were home and my mother was out of hearing, I asked my father for the money so I could buy my mother a Christmas present. I admit that I had a certain privilege and did not want for much, although I had, through frowns and raised eyebrows, seen the limits to that privilege.
In 1955 a seven-year old could wander the stores alone, and that’s what I did the next time my mother and I went shopping. I “ditched” my mother, headed straight for Woolson’s and that blue handled egg beater. With the $5 dollar bill in my hand I picked up the egg beater and triumphantly made my way to the cash register to pay. Mr. Woolson wrote up the sale on a little pad with carbon paper between the white and yellow layers. Eye level with the cash register I watched him punch the key that made “$5” pop up in the glass window of the cash register. My pride of a completed sale turned to horror as I watched him punch “tax” then “.15” which also popped in the window. He calmly announced, “That will be five dollars and 15 cents, please.” I froze with the five dollar bill in my hand and just stared at the cash register. With a sinking heart and rising embarrassment, I whispered, “This is all I have.” That dear man hesitated then said, “Oh, that’s OK”, pushed a button that made a drawer open with a cha-ching sound, and he placed my treasured bill in the metal drawer. My “thank you” was soft, but my heart pounded loudly with my good fortune. I have that egg beater now, and every time I look at it, I remember Don Woolson’s willingness to forgo some sales tax because a little girl didn’t know to have it.