Thursday, April 12, 2012

Grocery Store Waltz

I was shopping with my wife the other day. We were in one of those “big-box,” stores where you can buy shoes, cereal and siding. She was looking for a kitchen sink, I for everything but. One of the things I saw had me wanting a broom to sweep the aisle.

There was an older couple, handsomely dressed, looking at sinks, I guess. Nothing unusual about that, except the man kept dipping his hand into his coat pocket. While his wife was fixated in front of plumbing fixtures he would crack the peanut shells, toss the peanuts into his mouth, and let the shells fall to the floor. He repeated this eating exercise as the couple strolled throughout the store.

I don’t know if this practice of throwing peanut shells on the floor of a store is acceptable, or if it is something new. I don’t remember anyone doing anything like that in any of the stores in Belle Plaine. Other than inside the bars, it simply wasn’t done.

There were many stores in town, but one in particular seemed to have it all. Hahn’s had groceries, clothing and those old standards: notions, domestics and dry goods. The store occupied a building on a downtown corner. It was almost like two stores under the same name; through the north door one got their groceries; everything else was purchased through the east door, and somewhere inside these two retail lines converged.

Sometime in the 70’s the store changed hands, name, and location. It became known as Beck’s, with just five letters and one syllable the name was similar to Hahn’s. I suppose somewhere in the world there is a gentleman named Hans Beck, but that has nothing to do with this story.

One day in response to my dad’s strong suggestion, I hopped on my bike and went to Beck’s to apply for a job. I was hired. Tim Brown, a guy about my age, was hired at the same time for the same type of work, and that summer he and I would spend our days together.

Our duties included sweeping, waxing and mopping floors. We also stocked shelves, bagged groceries and carried them to station wagons and four-door sedans. We also tried to shake out rugs.

Every morning Tim and I would arrive at the store a few minutes before seven and wait for Mr. Beck to unlock the doors. We would then grab one of the two large rugs from the entrance way. I can’t be sure but I believe each rug was about 5 feet wide and 10 feet long. They were thick and heavy with a rubber backing on one side and coarse fabric on the other.

With Tim on one end and me on the other we tried to dislodge the dust and dirt, but the rugs were just too big and clumsy for us to get the job done. Although Mr. Beck was usually patient with us, he could not stand idly by and watch two boys goof up what he considered an easy task.

“Don’t waltz with it,” he said once as he grabbed my end of the rug. Then, with passion normally reserved for hand-to-hand combat, he assaulted the rug until it and Tim were visibly shaken.

When Mr. Beck was satisfied with the rug detail Tim and I swept the grocery section of the store before it opened. One day after we told Mr. Beck we had finished sweeping he said, “Tim, Jerry, come here.” We followed him to an aisle where he proceeded to kick a rock the size of a large walnut from underneath a shelf.

“Boys, I put that rock there to see if you were doing a good job.”

We tried to convince him that we had found the rock earlier but decided to leave it as we figured he must have put it there for a reason. I don’t think he believed us but he let it go.

I wonder what Mr. Beck would have said if he saw a man dropping peanut shells all over his store.

“Tim, Jerry, clean that up and waltz that guy out of here.”


  1. Being in the retail business a good part of my life, I can relate. Your experiences made me chuckle.