If the Bra fits, be a Role Model

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.

Typical Alberta General Store (Winfield's photo not available for sharing)

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.

26 thoughts on “If the Bra fits, be a Role Model

  1. Oh, Amy! Mrs. Hunter sounds wonderful! Did she have kids of her own?

    The town sounds grand too! I’m a small town girl who hates to shop. Country stores are the exception. Such interesting things to sample, including tidbits of conversations.

    • Mrs. Hunter had at least one daughter. I used to think she was the luckiest kid in town. If she had other kids, they were old enough that I didn’t consider their existence during my youth.

  2. What a lovely story. She sounds like she was a kind woman. I don’t even remember my first bra, think it has to do with the fact I was terribly self-conscious about the changes my body was going through. Love the sound of that store.

    • Thanks, Alannah. General stores were magical places. Those stores had everything: food, clothing, tools, fuel, parts, etc. Most importantly – to us young ‘uns – there was candy. Sometimes when I was bored, I would just go and look in the button bin. That was like going through a chest of jewels.

  3. How wise and wonderful! I can absolutely relate to this, Amy, having also skipped a grade and been a year behind my classmates in development. I find it quite an interesting and far-reaching scenario 🙂

  4. Loved this story! Brought back all that young-girl angst when I was once flat chested and dying to wear a bra like all the other girls, too. Now, let’s see. . . it’s a much different story — LOL! Have a great day, Amy.

    • Glad you could identify. I sure was in a hurry to grow up. I actually found a photo of that General Store on the Internet, but it is in someone’s private link that is not shareable. Only people who lived there at one time would really care, but I certainly enjoyed just looking at the photo.

  5. A wonderful woman. A wonderful story. Tears on this one. Thank you for sharing it here, Amy.

    Oh, and don’t I remember the angst around the bra issue and chaning for gym. Yikes! It was all so important then …

    I enjoyed the description of the town you grew up in. Hard for me to imagine in some respects. There were 400 families in the apartment complex we lived in when I was at the age you describe here.

    I think you said you shared my blog with Bob – a radio person – and I’m not sure I said thanks. But, “thank you.” What a lovely thing to do.

    • Yes, wasn’t I fortunate to have a Mrs. Hunter in my life. Imagine, Jamie, you had my town in an apartment building. That’s amazing. Sometimes I had to walk 2 or 3 miles, with my dog, through bush trails and fields, to find someone my age to play with. As long as I was home for dinner, mother did not worry. Mind you, she could have outdone a hog caller from the southern States when she did want us home.

      The radio show, The Road Home. is truly a sanctuary of listening. Since it is out of the University of Alberta, it is not commercial which I love. (Evening broadcasts and repeats in the early morning) http://www.ckua.org/

      In the past when Bob has read one of my emails on his program, he has not given me a heads up. But I discovered how to link up to a recording later. If he dips into your blog and shares it with his MANY radio fans, and I’m aware of it, I will link you.

  6. What a glorious moment in time for a up and becoming woman. And what a brilliant gal to have placed in your path.
    Yup–I’d say you chose wisely.

    And oh….I do know about hog callers. LOL

  7. This is the type of history that will be cherished by generations of families all over the world. Get your histoical accounts placed on paper, just in case something happens in 2012 that can interfere with satelites and the ability to get on the internet.

    I plan to compile stuff on a “paper trail” for my great-great-great-grand niece to read in class with some redactions of off color comments by that sexy lady who discussed her undergarments with us in public.

    Loved the description of the wooden pavement and the train arriving once a week. Gave it a rustic, down-home flavor.


    michael j

  8. Amy, that was such a sweet story, my coming of age was very traumatic…so it was nice to hear your account. It also reminded me of my favorite book and tv show when I was a kid, “Little House on the Prarie”. Do listen to or have you heard of Garrison Keillor’s show “A Prairie Home Companion” on Public Radio. I enjoy that too so much…small towns, and a slower gentler way of life…I hope we never completely lose that.

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