We’d been outside playing for over an hour when Uncle Johnny’s beat-up pickup rumbled into the driveway. Immediately abandoning what we were doing, we yelled “Uncle’s Johnny’s here!” and ran over to greet him as he got out of the truck. “Hey kids! How’re y’all doing?” he asked us, giving us hugs and grin. He was lean and lanky with sandy blonde hair that hung down over the top of his ears. His yellow-gold cowboy hat seemed to glow in the hot summer sun.
He bore a resemblance to my stepfather that would hint to an unknowing onlooker that they were brothers. His boyish face might hint that he was younger if someone looked close enough. Johnny and Junior loved each other. They were brothers not only by birth, but in lifestyle. A visit from Johnny could include a fun adventure or it could end in a wild melee. It was unpredictable. Not knowing how things would go was half the fun. He made his way up the concrete steps heading into the trailer. We followed along behind him single file, like baby ducks.
The adults said hello to one another and began talking about things we didn’t care to listen to. “I’m going back outside” Danny said. I got up to follow him out. “Hey, kids, wait a sec,” Johnny said, “I’ve got something for you.” He went back out to his truck for a minute slamming the screen door behind him. A moment later, he came back in with a handful of pennies. “Why don’t you kids head up to the store and get some candy?” Ecstatic, we looked at Mom for approval. “I don’t care” she said, adding on “Why don’t you get me some cigarettes while you’re there?” She reached down beside the couch and grabbed her purse. She gave us exact change. Johnny dug out a handful of pennies from his pocket.
We took the pennies and counted them out on the floor. We couldn’t very well head to the store without knowing our purchasing power in advance. The way we saw it, there was one and only one advantage to living in City View, and that was the close proximity to the Shop and Go. There was over $1 in pennies Johnny had rounded up from his truck. That meant we could get a couple of things, or one big thing to share. We were going to have options. We scooped the change up, dividing it into our pockets and headed out the front door.
The Shop and Go on Powell was right next to the first row of trailers in the trailer park. We lived on the last row, so we had the equivalent of about half of a city block to traverse. Trips to the Shop and Go were our favorite. Normally, we couldn’t even leave our yard to play with neighborhood kids. When faced with the opportunity to get something out of it, whatever concerns had our parents keeping us in the yard seemed to disappear. Obviously, the everyday terrors of the neighborhood were invalid if you were heading to the Shop and Go.
As we turned around the edge of the fence separating our yard from the next-door neighbor, we felt instant freedom. It was as if the air outside the small fence was completely different than the air inside it. On our own we were explorers. Wealthy explorers at that. We walked through the yards that had enough space to let us through. Occasionally there was fence and we would have to go around. If anyone’s yard looked creepy, we would also go around that one too, crossing where it looked safer to us. Roaming free in the neighborhood made us feel like everyone else. We felt like such babies, not leaving the yard.
Walking through the doors of the store, the cold blast of air conditioning hit our faces. My very favorite thing about any store in the summer was the air conditioning, oh the sweet, magical relief! The sweat we had worked up playing outside and walking seemed to dry off our skin immediately. We turned right down the first aisle and headed straight to the candy. We discussed the finer merits of getting a lot of small candy, perhaps individual pieces of bubble gum, or going for something larger and rarer, like the full-size candy bar. We stood there in the cool aisle, debating the pros and cons of our choices.
Finally, we decided to get a candy bar and a Dr. Pepper. We could share them both. “I’ll go first” I told Danny, heading to the register. Today the man was working. We were somewhat familiar with the different cashiers that worked at the Shop and Go. The only male employee we ever saw working was on shift today, and he was not our favorite. As soon as we entered the store, he would look at us with disapproval. He had dark hair, a handlebar mustache and he always wore his black cowboy hat and aviator sunglasses even inside. He wasn’t one to make polite conversation. Today, he wore his usual expression of disapproval tinged with boredom.
I handed him Mom’s money and said, “A pack of Doral Ultra-Light 100’s, please.” He took the money, depositing it into the register. He turned around to find the blue gray package and handed it to me. Danny was next up. He put our Dr. Pepper and candy bar on the counter. Mr. Bored With Life rang up the total. When we dug in our pockets to bring out the pennies, he took one look and simply said, “No.” Confused we looked at him, “What?” we asked. “I said no. I don’t have to take those pennies if they are not in a roll.” We replied, “But we don’t have a roll.” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Too bad.” We were crestfallen. Begrudgingly we put the items back that we selected and left the store.
The walk back home through the trailer park was no longer filled with excitement and energy. The buildup had ended with a total letdown.
We climbed up the concrete steps heading back into the house. I gave mom her cigarettes. Uncle Johnny said “Well, what did you get?” We looked at each other, then back at him. “We didn’t get anything” I told him. “Why not?” he asked. “The pennies have to be in a roll, or they won’t take them.” Outraged, Johnny hopped up from the couch. “That’s a load of damn bullshit!” he exclaimed. “They got to take those pennies, it’s money! Come on, kids, I’ll go back up there with you” he told us.
Things were getting interesting now. We followed Uncle Johnny back up to the Shop and Go. He walked faster than us because he was taller, but also because he was hyped up. I suspected he’d downed a couple more beers while we had been on our first trip to the store.
We walked back into the cool air conditioning. The man looked at us and at Johnny. His normally bored face looked resigned. He may have been angry or annoyed, it was hard to tell with the sunglasses on. “Why the hell won’t you let these kids buy some damn candy in this store? Their money is as good as anyone else’s!” Johnny thundered immediately.
They stared at each other from opposite sides of the counter. The dark-haired dark hat wearing cashier on one side, and Jonny all golden hair and yellow hat on the other side. For a long moment, no one said anything. We all just waited, the air heavy with tension.
“I just told them the pennies had to be in a roll” the man said, “not that they couldn’t spend them here.” Annoyed, Danny and I looked at each other. “Well, what the hell do you want me to do?” Johnny said to him, reaching in his pocket. He pulled out some small white squares and said, “Do you want me to roll them in my damn cigarette papers?” He slapped the paper down on the counter, “Give me the pennies!” he said to me and Danny. We started laying the pennies on the counter. Johnny started lining them up and attempting to roll them in the cigarette paper. His efforts would have been valiant had we all been actors in an infomercial.
Exasperated, the cashier said, “I have a roll. Here.” He reached down beneath the cabinet and handed Johnny a penny roll paper. “Was that so fucking hard?” Johnny replied? “Go get your candy, kids. I’ll roll this up.” We raced back through the store, not wanting to lose the opportunity again.
Soon, we were walking out, the proud owners of a full-size candy bar and a Dr. Pepper. Escorting us all the way back home was the valiant golden cowboy who had won the showdown at the Shop and Go.