I could also see that Big Store had some bargains. Close to the front was a jewelry counter, all lit up and showing engagement rings for less than a thousand dollars and one man was talking about a set of tires in the back he was getting “for half of what Goodyear charged”. I didn’t need rings or tires so I started down the aisle, looking for the things on my list.
That part was nearly impossible. Seven dollars an hour wasn’t enough to make Cora leave her Saturday Night Bingo, I had to agree to sweeten the pot with twenty more out of my own pocket! (By then, I would have paid her thirty to take that shift.)
Finally, I gassed up the last car Ponder ever got me, a 1966 Ford that I call The Old Mule. Oh, that car is stubborn! It balks in front of hills and dies before it will go through any puddle big enough to draw mosquitoes. Still, I own it outright and Ponder set it up so it takes unleaded gas, so I keep on driving it, silly as that sounds. That Friday, the Old Mule felt like Cinderella’s coach, to me. It was taking me to the Big Store at last.
My name’s Viola; never mind how old I am, it’s probably older than you. I’m a widow woman and I’ve spent most of my life working for somebody else. I was serving on the breakfast line at the Piggly Wiggly when I met Ponder, the man I married.
used to say he walked in for a sausage biscuit and walked out with me. Ponder picked trash for a living, buying a car or cabinet someone didn’t want, then mending and selling it to someone else for a little higher price. That kind of a job doesn’t bring in wages, not the kind you can show the government, so I stayed at the Pig, serving breakfast until the store shut down. After that I cleaned houses and sat with sick and old people for a day job. After Ponder died of a stroke, I started worked nights and weekends too. There wasn’t much to go home to, except the bills and Ponder’s bargains. I keep my people and their houses clean and that’s been my life these last five years.
I learned about the Big Store from my patients. While I took care of them and their houses, their families brought in the groceries. While somebody’s Aunt Virginia would be talking with half her kin in the front room, I’d be in the kitchen with the other half of them unpacking cardboard boxes with enough packaged dinners and washing powders to keep Aunt Virginia fat and tidy till Judgment Day. There weren’t any price tags on these boxes – people buy stuff by the case at the Big Store – but the families always said they were real good bargains. Buying in bulk, they call it. They told me you could even buy furniture and vacations at the Big Store.
Lord, I wanted to see that Big Store and all those things. Problem is, only members of the Big Store can shop there and most people get memberships through their jobs. My jobs don’t even have health insurance so the closest I’d get to the Big Store was using the washing powders and dreaming about what I’d buy there if I could. Sometimes, when an Aunt Virginia finally passed on, her family would offer to bring me something from the Big Store as a bonus for taking care of her. That’s not the same as choosing something for yourself so I’d say “No, thank you kindly” and they’d give me some money or one of her old brooch pins and I’d go on to the next Aunt Virginia. And I’d think about that Store.