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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Groceries - deadline 8-23-12 10 am NY time (08/16/12)

TITLE: The 'Stuff of Life.'
By Danielle King


Miss Thompson’s soft, lilted tone didn’t tally with the perfectly round wire spectacles perched on the end of her shiny nose; nor the hairgrips, forbidding mousey brown curls to break loose. There was an aura of something gentle and pleasing about Miss Thompson; it hovered around who she was, lapping in sleepy waves to saturate every inch of her shop. The sack of potatoes with muck on; the basket of freshly laid eggs; the wooden crate of oranges, each wrapped in tissue paper and the huge slab of cheese that she cut with a wire; everything tinged with love and respect.

Miss Thompson’s shop was at the junction of our cobbled street, and the main road into the city; a corner shop, with three stone steps worn away at the centre, and a door sneck that activated the bell.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays Uncle George’s fruit and veg cart would rumble along the cobbles. As if programmed, Nancy, his old cart horse would deposit a fresh steaming gift on the kerb outside number 2. Old Henry was first out with his shovel. He said horse dung enriched his cabbages.

Miss Thompson always had a nice cup of tea and an iced bun waiting for Uncle George on his return journey, and carrots with green tops for Nancy. There was no competition, though Chinese whispers did suggest there may be a hint of romance in the air.

To a village kid in England’s northern counties in the 50’s, a returned pop bottle was worth ‘three ha’pence,’ sufficient for a few sweets. As I laboured over the choice of dolly mixtures, bulls eyes and gobstoppers, Miss Thompson helped by totting up the cost; several times, as I changed my mind frequently. Decision made, she would replace the jars in the window, behind the Fry’s chocolate sign and pop the goodies into a white paper bag. With a deft flick of the wrists the corners were twisted tight. The dong of the bell as the money drawer opened was accompanied by a wide smile and: ‘Thank you luvvie … and mind that road!’

It didn’t matter to Miss Thompson how long the queue or the amount being spent, each customer was served with courtesy and patience.

Jack Smith, the neighbour’s boy was slow to learn and suffered a dreadful speech impediment. Miss Thompson set him on in the back room stacking tinned peas, corned beef and baked beans. Mid-morning they stopped for ‘elevenses.’ This new, posh word meant a break for Camp coffee or an Oxo cube dissolved in boiled water; and of course an arrowroot biscuit to dunk.

Right now, I’m driving into the city on a fast dual carriageway through the middle of the former site of Miss Thompson’s shop. Each side is flanked by industrial estates and business parks. The now un-cobbled street is home to high rise flats for commuters to London.

I’m doing my weekly supermarket shop where I buy everything from food to clothing; household appliances, garden plants, newspapers and petrol. I’ll visit the food hall for a hot meal to save peeling potatoes and emptying the dishwasher.

What really bugs me is the nuisance of having to find space in the freezer and larder for all this stuff. I really must have a new kitchen. Or maybe it’s simpler to move house, a bigger one as Jeff suggests.

This chore is a real bind. I could be home watching daytime TV, or looking online for that long awaited Mediterranean cruise. Instead I’m in line at the cash out. Why don’t they employ more staff? This is ridiculous, having to wait in a queue. Don’t tell me - it’s a learner. Oh, I’ve no time for newbies; I’m joining the next line.

The woman in front of me has an appalling diet. Sliced white bread, margarine, beef burgers and spam fritters; LARD, no – don’t tell me she’s frying with blubbery fat. Why doesn’t she buy healthy microwave meals like I do?

The cash out girl robotically scans the bar code and chews gum. I swipe my plastic card in the machine and she trots out the, ‘have a nice day’ thing without smile or eye contact.

I drive home, about to pass through the ghost of the corner shop again. I remember Miss Thompson...

Dear Miss Thompson, whose warm commitment and steadfast loyalty to our small community, has gifted me with appreciative memories of a golden age; when people mattered more than ‘stuff.’

*Three ha’pence – regional slang for three half pennies before decimal currency in UK.

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This article has been read 430 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/23/12
Another fun venture into a bygone day--quite a bit different from my own early experiences of grocery shopping in America, but with a special flavor all its own.
Francy Judge 08/23/12
You brought me in to this time and place of a country store with your rich details. I could see her wrapping up the candies in a little bag. Sweet memories well written.
C D Swanson 08/24/12
This reminded me of my young days when I would visit my aunt and uncle in the country. I loved your descriptions, your imagination and this whole piece. Thank you.

God bless~
Karen Pourbabaee 08/24/12
I enjoyed this quaint little peek into the past...very descriptive and well written.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 08/26/12
I enjoyed this journey, first back to a simpler time in the charming old country store and then across the ocean to a different country. I thought this was a charming read.
Allison Egley 08/26/12
This is good. I liked it.
lynn gipson 08/26/12
I really enjoyed this. It reminded me a the country stores I used to go to in south georgia, usa.when I was a little girl. I got rag bologna and funny looking cheese. I really miss that kind of shopping.
You are an excellent writer!
Myrna Noyes08/27/12
I really enjoyed your delightful memories and the wonderful word pictures you gave us with your fine writing! In this case, the past was certainly more pleasant than the present! :)
Leola Ogle 08/29/12
"when people mattered more than stuff." I loved it! A delightful story, especially since I grew up in the 50's, only not in the UK. God bless!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 08/30/12
Congratulations for ranking 17 overall!