The Big Store (The Beginning)

        Not all trash is trash: that’s the first thing you’ve got to know.  I’ve picked over, cleaned up and used other people’s trash all my life but I know the difference between a bargain and cheap.  It’s all about quality and no Big Store can sell that off its underground shelves, no matter what you hear.  You need to know how to shop.

        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.

          Ponder used to make me so mad with his bargains.  He’d come back from the junkyard with some invention that never worked or some stinky, stained stock papers on a business that bankrupted twenty years ago and say, “This will make us rich”.  Ponder always figured he could fix the invention or the business would come back  and then we’d be set for life.  Of course it never happened.  Instead, the contraptions filled up our yard and the stinky papers filled up the house.  I’ve had trouble getting rid of the metal but I burnt those stock papers right after the Ponder’s funeral.  That much I could do.

        Oh, I love finding bargains as much as Ponder but he and I had different ideas about what a bargain was.  I wanted to get something good for less than the other fella paid but Ponder wanted treasure from garbage.  Maybe it came from my cleaning work, but I got so I loved a tidy house with storage space and nice things that haven’t been chewed on. Most people around here buy their new things from this cavern warehouse they call the Big Store.

          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.
I will say, one family really did take care of me.  Eula Mae Albritton was a sneaky, mean gossip when she was young but that Alzheimers turned her flat-out evil.  I ought to know; I changed her adult diapers and ran herd on that old biddy for two years.  Funny thing is her daughter, Alicia, is just the opposite. When Miss High-and-Mighty Albritton snuck out of the house and ran down the street, showing her underwear to the neighbors, Alicia told the police it wasn’t my fault.  Instead, she gave me a good reference and a brand-new Coach bag while she put her mother in a home.  It’s a designer bag and I know it cost plenty.  Alicia said I deserved it from looking after her mother which is why I call it Hazard Pay.  With Ponder gone, I guess Hazard Pay is what I love most, now.  I clean it regular and carry to all my functions.  I wore it to Ponder’s funeral and I planned to carry it to my own.  Of course, having Hazard Pay didn’t stop me dreaming about the Big Store; it just meant that if I’d have the right bag to wear if I got the chance to go inside.

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