Where I Spent More Time Than Money
Mr. Malloy was long gone when I used to frequent his 5 & 10 cent store. Perhaps there was a Malloy in the store when my mother went there as a girl, but in my day Mr. Mosher was the proprietor. He was a tall man with graying hair and a raspy voice, but very nice to me. He knew my mother and my grandmother, and he knew me. Everyone in the store knew me.
I was that kid, or one of those kids, who came in on Friday evening or Saturday morning and lingered for hours. I would look at everything that a boy my age might be interested in, and by “look” I mean handled. Toys, games, coloring books, picture books, kites, knives, candy, and gum. Everything. Every time.
It was probably 1968 when this started. I was five and my mother was working full time, so my grandmother often had charge of me on weekends. But it didn’t become a regular, weekly thing until after my mother had remarried and we no longer lived with her.
Soon after my mother married, my grandmother sold the house at 351 Main Street and moved to Laysville, a section of Old Lyme near Roger’s Lake. Soon after, I moved to Clinton. We came up with an arrangement where she would pick me up from school on Friday afternoons. We would drive to Old Saybrook and shop in town. She would visit the Rexall drugstore and buy a few groceries at Walt’s and I would always go to Malloy’s to spend the bit of money that my grandmother and her sister would bless me with.
With two dollars to spend and a store full of things to consider, I would agonize. Should I buy a Matchbox car and use the excess for baseball cards? Or splurge on a balsa airplane with a wind up propeller? Then there were fad items like Wacky stickers or little magic tricks. It was hard to decide between them all when I was 8 or 9.
Meanwhile, my grandmother would do a little shopping herself and then sit in the car reading the newspaper or a new horoscope book. Her sister would fidget and watch people, or nod off. It seemed like a long time that I was in the store, and sometimes my grandmother would come in to remind me we needed to have dinner. It was probably an hour. Maybe less. Mr. Mosher would monitor me and sometimes asked me if I had seen something new that he had in the store.
Through the years I bought an amazing array of fun things in that store. Cars and airplanes were always high on my shopping list, but gag items and magic tricks, guns and costumes, sticker books and anything that made a noise were also perennial favorites.
By the time I was 11, my grandmother was living on Maple Avenue, back in Old Saybrook, and my little allowance had grown to six dollars. My tastes had changed to Mad Libs and army men or accessories for my G.I. Joe. By twelve I had graduated to office supplies like notebooks and three-hole punches. And soon my shopping tastes shifted, and I was interested in other stores where I could see a bigger selection of styrene models and comic books.
There was one thing that I found at Malloy’s that I prized for many years. It was a bar of clear lucite, a foot long, over an inch wide and half an inch thick. It was a ruler, but no other kid in my school ever had a ruler like it. It was so popular that I later bought another one in a different color. I still had both of them when I got married, though I think I gave one to my mother. Isn’t it amazing the strange things you remember?
And speaking of strange things to remember, Mr. Mosher once told me a joke. I was older, probably a young teen, and I was in the office supplies section of the store. He walked up near me, picked up a two-foot ruler and asked me if I knew what it was. All I could manage was a blank stare. Then he deadpanned, “A Polish yardstick”.
Now, before you judge Mr. Mosher for his use of an ethnic joke, I’ll remind you that there were entire books of Polish and Italian jokes that were very popular at the time. Most comedians had at least one or two Polish jokes in their routines. No, what I got out of it was that Mr. Mosher, who had watched me grow up, was now recognizing me as an adult rather than a child.