Walking into the Hunters’ 1,600 square foot General Store meant any one of our senses could be given a joy ride. If colors of the merchandise throughout the various departments didn’t catch the eye, if the smell and the warmth of the wood stove didn’t lure, there would be lively conversation that would be worth overhearing.
Wednesdays were the best. Ever vigilant in her battle with prairie dust, Mrs. Hunter secured a winning defense over dirty boots and open doors on Wednesdays. That was the day she applied liberal doses of fresh oil to the wooden planking on the floor. The blast of fresh oil meant Mrs. Hunter had been up before dawn sweeping and cleaning, the feather-duster caressing every visible chattel on shelf or table.
“You’re either in or you’re out, Bert! Shut the door!” a customer would shout to a neighbour, cranky about the wind blowing in cold air. Mrs. Hunter did not need to say a word.
The General Store was the hub of our prairie town. Winfield, a small Alberta hamlet of only a few hundred people, had a wooden sidewalk down one side of the main street. The well-maintained railway station and station master’s house sat alongside the tracks on the opposite side of that unnamed, unnumbered street.
The train arrived weekly, delivering goods and chattels that would otherwise not have been available. Most of them went to Hunter’s General Store.
Everyone ran a tab at the Store. It was a way of life. Whenever money appeared, the tab was paid down, or was cleared, appropriately.
The “tab” was critical to my development. My maturation ran ahead of my mother’s perception. At 11, when I announced I had entered the world of womanhood, her response caused me to face the embarrassment of seeking help from my oldest sister. Mom apologized later, but the incident convinced me that she was not well versed in the needs of a young woman. Thankfully, I could charge the supplies I needed.
One day, I decided I needed a brassiere. I knew the perfect person from whom to seek counsel.
“Morning, Mrs. Hunter.” I looked around to make sure no one was near us. I whispered, “I need a brassiere, please. It’s okay to put it on our bill.”
“Okay, but I have to measure you, Amy. Let’s go into the changing room.”
I could tell she had done this many times before because there was no embarrassing pauses. She told me exactly what I had to do and foretold her use of the measuring tape.
“Okay. Let’s see. Ah yes, you are a perfect 28.” she said, dropping the tape measure and rolling it immediately.
“Can I put one on right now?”
“Let’s go over to the table and see what we have in stock.” She showed me where to look to read the size and I combed the table laden with all the sizes in perfect order.
My heart sank. “The smallest is a 32.” I said with obvious disappointment.
“You know, we must have sold the last 28. We don’t even have a size 30. Oh dear. I’ll have to order some in right away.”
“How long will it take to get here?” I was trying to sound mature – as though this sad state of affairs had little effect. I wanted desperately to tell her that I was now a woman.
“It will take some time. These orders take longer than most. But you come back in, oh, about a month and we’ll see if they’re in.”
Waiting through that month was agonizing. The girls were all older than me since I had skipped grades. I was the only one not wearing a bra, I mistakenly believed. I began to avoid playing sports due to emotional discomfort associated with female development.
I regularly popped in to check with Mrs. Hunter. None of the disappointments deterred my frequency. Each time I appeared, she welcomed me with enthusiasm and set a new date to come back.
Finally one day, she said, “I don’t know what the problem is with those manufacturers. Let’s measure you again and see if anything has changed.”
When she wrapped the tape around me this time, she seemed more relieved than me, “31! Why don’t we give you a size 32 and then you can grow into it?” Her words were straight from heaven.
I ran out of the store and headed straight for the after-school ball game that the girls were playing. The jersey may have have revealed a couple of wrinkles in front, but at least everyone would know that I was finally woman enough to wear a bra.
Many years later, I carried a lump in my throat over the realization that, in those times, size 32 was the smallest bra she would have been able to order. If she had still been alive, I would have sent her 28 red roses.
My beloved Guides. Is there anything further that we need to discuss about Mrs. Hunter?
We would like to consider how the world would function if she was the profile to mimic.
She displayed a number of virtues in this simple exchange. She encouraged me to return again and again and welcomed me sincerely with each visit. When I asked my mother years later if Mrs. Hunter ever told her, the answer was no. Because of Mrs. Hunter, I have wanted to be the type of woman who could offer that type of respect to a young girl. Her memory contributed to a large degree to my becoming a Big Sister.
Mrs. Hunter influenced a large number of people. Those many acts of kindness and respect were never discussed by her. She never received any elaborate thank you for most of her wise ministrations with her customers. Because of her demeanor, people were motivated to pay her first when money finally became available. However, that is not the reason she acted with integrity. It was her nature.
Thank you for the confirmation. It tells me that I chose a good role model.
You chose an excellent one.