The Royal Stores

I remember him only as a child would,
a tall, brusque, pine-knobby man
with a big bristle mustache
and red stains on the front of his apron.

At my request he took the hook
down off the pillar to fish
for a lean haunch in a wooden barrel,
weighing it on the big white scale
at the end of the hardwood counter.

Tearing a sheet of butcher paper
from a roll hung high, he tied it
with a pure white twine also pulled
from the magic of those heavens.

I stared, fascinated, as he scrawled something
on the package with a grease pencil
and nearly jumped when he snapped the string
with a mighty and swift tug of his bare hands.

Put it on…(God! What’s her name? I panicked,
Not Aunt Vi!)…Violet Jackman’s account,
I squeaked and started the long walk back,
having earned my treat of the sweet red meat.

So did we learn, all us little people then,
and all of it long gone now, just memories,
old histories to us who were there, soon lost—
hold on and let it all go, let it go…
Like that twine, which I still can’t snap like that,
I’ve tried.

My sister doubts this memory and I may well have confused a trip to the store for our Aunt Vi  with a recollection of going to the Royal Stores with my mother or father.  My sister points out that the walk from my aunt’s house to the Royal Stores was the farthest of all the possibilities, and that she would probably have sent me to the much closer Ryan’s Cash and Carry; and that the name on the account would have been my uncle’s, George Jackman, he being the bread winner. Or, at most, that she would have sent me to the Co-op Store, where she was a member.

Still, my memory is what it is, and I present it to you for all that a flawed piece of reflection it may be. We are all the little things of little people in little places.

My sister reminded me of many more things of the little town where we grew up:

Of Garl Morrisey’s pharmacy where you could get ‘floats’ made in paper cups, and who bought a Volkswagen Beetle and parked it outside, so that his enormous Newfoundland dog, Patty, would have a place to rest. That shop later moved next to the movie theater and became Winslows and is now Grand Falls Pharmacy; the original storefront then became a camera shop where I bought my first serious equipment.

Of the bakery that was imaginatively called The Bake Shop (owned by Miss Sally Spicer) where two of my other aunts worked; that was next to the soda bottling plant and both down from the local paper, The Advertiser, now long out of operation and the building gone. There was a shoe store in that area too (another aunt worked there) but that was somewhat later. It too is gone.

Of the fact that Aunt Vi’s best friend was Et Hunt.

Of the fact that in the Royal Stores (not to mention Stewarts in Windsor) there were no cash registers. All transactions were put in a little cage and run by wire to “the office” where change and/or receipts were made and returned the same way.

There is no Royal Stores today, the company is long out of business and even the building is gone; all that remains is a gravel parking lot.

Thank you for reading The Royal Stores. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is from the The Exploits Valley Royal Stores post of the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company blog and is used by permission. It is circa 1960s, the era of the poem; the Royal Stores is the blue and white building on the far right.

To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

Poem and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © John Etheridge,


Filed under Poetry

18 responses to “The Royal Stores

  1. charming on all levels, and lovingly written. however you remember them, the people and places are you. your memories are real if you want them bad enough. – tsk

  2. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I liked this piece.
    Entertaining and perfectly expressed.

  3. Pete Hulme

    Memories – so important, so tricky! Beautifully captured here, whether what really happened or not.

  4. Thank you for stopping by. I too have written poetically if vaguely on times past – great therapy for the grey matter?

  5. Cindy

    I’m proud to say I’m John’s sister and I LOVE this poem. It gave me an unexpected quiet, reflective time to visit with my aunts in a moment that is soft in the colours of memories and warm in the feelings of love. I’m still smiling!!
    Thanks, John.

    • You are welcome dearest! I loved revisiting these memories with you. In some ways it all feels like yesterday, in others it seems like looking at a movie made on another planet… it is that alien. It’s funny, I am realizing that I am much more tied to the place and times than I had ever thought.

      Thank God I had you there with me then to help me make it through them! I am not sure what would have happened without you. No kidding. 🙂

  6. Kathleen Johnson

    John, I loved this. The grocery transaction wired in a Reminds me vaguely of some childhood memories in Northern Minnesota at the corner grocery 4 doors down from my autie’s. Wood floor, family living behind the store. Loved when they left the door open and I could glimpse their lives behind the store. Seemed so magical as a kid from “the cities”.

    • A kindred soul! I knew as much! Yes, old fashioned general stores rarely exist these days, do they? And I think you nailed one of the defining elements: real wooden floors. 🙂