The letter in the beverage store
On the Banksville Road, there’s an old building where I go to stock up on the assorted bottled waters, soft drinks and juices that we all favor. There’s not much of anything in that part of town: the hardware store shut down last year, leaving the beverage store, the liquor store attached to it, the grocery and an old country market with warped, dusty floorboards. The beverage store sells loose beers and at the end of the day the parking slots are filled with the dirt-streaked pick-up trucks, landscaping vans and aged Civics and Tercels of the day laborers stopping off on their way out of town.
The beverage place is run by a nut-brown foreigner with a ready smile who’s always wearing a multi-colored cardigan no matter what the temperature. I’ve never given much thought to where he’s from: maybe India, or Pakistan. He’s fair and helpful, and there’s always someone ready with a hand truck to cart my cartons out to the car.
Yesterday the store was more crowded than usual and I had to wait farther up the narrow aisle where the ceiling dips to brush the top of my cap. When I turned sideways to let someone pass, I saw a handwritten note in a glass-cased frame with a picture of a tidy little blonde and a distracted looking man who could have wandered in off the prairie. The note was a touching good wish from the widow of the man who had tended the store for many years to the man who had bought the store.
The note was written 20 years ago. I wondered what the widow would make of the place now. The counter was piled high with cheap socks and $5 shoes, tire gauges and jackknifes, chewing tobacco and lottery tickets. But it is a good, honest business, tended by a good honest, who prices his goods fairly, who serves everyone respectfully, who has a ready word for the day laborers, and that’s the business I suspect Eddie Shumpka liked to keep, and why, if Eddie Shumpka had seen the letter, he probably would have smiled to see his pretty blonde wife, who never saw much of the world, signing off with a generous Jalal.