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Shopping with Gran

By Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Emily Jane Hills Orford grandparents shoppingMom dropped us at the corner, reminding us to take the bus home. “I don’t want your grandmother walking all the way home,” she insisted. “She’ll be tired after walking the length of Dundas Street and browsing every store along the way.” “Yes, Mom.”

I didn’t mind walking. I often walked from our house on Piccadilly Street to the downtown core, did some shopping and then walked home again. It was only a twenty-minute walk each way. And I knew Gran liked to walk. She walked everywhere in her hometown of Simcoe. But we did have a big day planned. Just the two of us shopping and enjoying a lunch out. Mom had given me the bus tickets. I liked taking the bus, too. I just didn’t like standing around waiting for it.

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“Have a good time, girls,” Mom called out the window and waved as she drove off. “We’re the girls, now. Aren’t we Gran?” I tucked my arm in hers and we made our way to the Woolworths around the corner. “Do you have your list?” Gran asked. She was always particular about making a list. It kept her organized, or so she claimed. “Yes, Gran.” I answered. Again. She had already asked me multiple times before we left home.

Gran visiting for a week was a treat. We liked to shop together, browsing the stores and stopping partway through our adventure to enjoy lunch at Woolworths. Mom didn’t really approve of our choice of lunch venues, but I thought it was great. I could have my favorite hot dog, French fries, coke and a chocolate dipped donut for dessert. Things I didn’t usually get to eat at home as Mom didn’t think they were particularly healthy.

We liked to start at Woolworths, even though we would return later for lunch. The first job of a good shopping trip was to browse the stores and compare prices. We were doing our Christmas shopping. Early. Although Gran thought September was a little late to purchase gifts. She claimed that the best sales were in July and August. A true Scotsman at heart, Gran looked for the best price on everything she purchased. Even if the difference was only in pennies.

“Do you think we’ll have our Christmas shopping finished today, Gran?” I asked. “I don’t see why not.” Gran was bright and cheery first thing in the morning. I knew she would soon start dragging along as her energy level waned. She wouldn’t lose her cheeriness, though, just her momentum.

Woolworths had the usual array of bargains. Gran called it the Five and Dime Store. I didn’t see anything that fit in the price range of 5 cents or 10 cents. “Why do you call it the Five and Dime Store, Gran?” I asked. I frequently asked the same question; always getting the same answer. “We could always count on Woolworths to offer us a good price on merchandise,” Gran explained. “In my younger days, good prices were usually 5 or 10 cents. Not any more, though.” “Maybe we should change the name to a Dollar or Two Store.” We shared a laugh. I looked at ties for Dad and my brothers. Woolworths had some, but not a really large selection. I thought I’d buy Mom and my sister colorful scarfs. There was one I liked. I would keep it in mind when we returned later for lunch. That is, if I didn’t find something else I liked better in the other stores along our route.

We walked out of the store, content that our choices would still be there when we returned. We crossed Dundas Street to the art deco building that housed the hundred-year old Kingsmills Department Store. “A good, old fashioned department store.” Gran loved to browse. “Do you know that after a hundred years, it’s still owned and run by the Kingsmills family? It’s a little pricey for my pocketbook, but I do love to look. And those large, classic picture windows, full of enticing displays, are enough to lure anyone and everyone inside its doors.”

We studied the fine linens on the main floor. Gran admired the handiwork, studying it more closely as I made my way over to the counter that displayed silk ties from England. They were a lot more expensive than across the street at Wooldworths, but they were also a lot nicer. There was one in particular that caught my eye: a Liberty print in blues and golds. I knew it would be perfect for Dad. Pricey or not, it was the perfect gift.

Gran joined me and I held it up for inspection. “Can you afford it?” she asked me. “I have money saved from the paper route I was doing all summer.” I nodded. “I think so. I’ll purchase the cheaper ones for my brothers, but this is perfect for Dad.” “I agree.” A sales lady was hovering nearby. Gran waved her over. “We can have it gift wrapped at no extra charge,” the woman advised us. I was sold. I made the payment and arranged to pick it up later after we were finished our shopping. No point in carrying all of our purchases around town. I marveled at the pneumatic tube system that sent the paperwork through the pipes to the accounting office and then back again with my receipt. I loved it. Classy.

As we made our way to the elevator, I stopped to look at the scarves. One in particular caught my eye. I knew Mom would love it. Gran agreed. Another purchase was made, the paperwork flashed through the pneumatic tube system and back with the receipt. My wallet was definitely feeling a lot lighter. We walked onto the old, attendant-operated lift (not an elevator, but a lift) to the top floor. “Let’s look at the china,” Gran suggested. “I want to buy your mother some more pieces of her Blue Willow china. It’s probably not on sale, but the casserole dish I was looking at wasn’t available elsewhere.”

We thanked the lift attendant and walked across the hardwood floor, allowing our feet to clatter on its surface. Finely dressed ladies with nametags smiled at us and asked to help. Gran just shook her head and walked directly to the china room. She knew where she was going.

“Oh my!” I was always amazed at the display shelves full of many different china patterns. We found the Blue Willow pattern right away. I pointed to the casserole. “Is this what you want to get?” I asked. Gran nodded. “Yes.” She waved to a clerk, who scurried over. After making the arrangements to have it wrapped carefully and giftwrapped as well, Gran made the purchase. “Perhaps you could hold this and we’ll pick it up after lunch. I don’t want to carry it around with me all morning.” The woman nodded. “Not a problem. It’ll be ready and waiting for you in the wrapping department downstairs. Just be sure to keep your receipt handy.” We browsed a little more, but didn’t make any further purchases in Kingsmills. We had spent enough.

The morning passed quickly as we browsed store after store, making a few more purchases along the way. We finished with a quick peak inside the Laura Secord store where Gran bought a jar of her favorite butterscotch candies and a chocolate bar, frosted mint, for me. “For later,” she whispered conspiratorially with a wink.

We were relieved to finally sit down at the counter of the Woolworths cafeteria, the lunch counter, as Gran called it. No more than a long, finely polished chrome counter, it stretched most of the length of one wall, with stools fixed into the floor at measured intervals. I loved to swing around on the stool while we waited for our lunch order – hot dogs and French fries. And, of course, the chocolate dipped donut.

We ate in silence, both exhausted from our shopping excursion. After lunch, I made my final purchases, the Woolworth ties for my brothers. We picked up the items waiting for us at Kingsmills and agreed that the bus was a very good idea now that we were laden with purchases. My Christmas shopping wasn’t done. Not quite. I still had to buy Gran something. I couldn’t do that while shopping with her. I would have to do that later. I had some ideas, though. Now I had to find a suitable hiding place for the gifts and patiently await Christmas when all would be unveiled.

I loved shopping with Gran. Any time of year was always a good time to go shopping with Gran. But I especially liked to go shopping in September, and, if I was lucky, we would have our planned outing on National Grandparents Day, a day set aside to honor those special grandparents, like my Gran. For 2018, National Grandparents Day falls on Sunday, September 9th.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford has published several books, creative nonfiction stories mostly about her family. She has written many stories about her grandmother, including her book, “Personal Notes”. Gran was the author’s inspiration for many of her stories, including her recent novel, “Queen Mary’s Daughter” (Clean Reads, 2018). As well, Gran, an important person in Emily-Jane’s life, appears as a staring character in many of her novels, including her soon-to-be-released young people’s novel, “Mrs. Murray’s Ghost” (TellTale Publishing, 2018). For more information about the author, check out her webpage at: http://emilyjanebooks.ca