September 26, 2019 By Jean Martin

Grandmother and Me

I spent my seventh birthday in the wondrous kingdom of Woolworth’s Five and Dime store on Washington Street in downtown Boston. My grandmother had given me a day in town and $5 to spend any way I wanted at the downtown Woolworth’s as a special birthday present. That was a lot of money to spend in those days. Woolworth’s doesn’t exist anymore, but it was a venerable palace of magical items to study carefully in order to make the best choice possible. It would take a lot of time, much thought and hard work, but I was up to it.

This old store had two floors with wooden floors that creaked and echoed with every footstep and an old staircase but no elevator. All the stock was displayed on long shelves in boxes that were roughly sorted into categories for “the home,” “the children,” and “the lady of the house.” Face creams and lotions hobnobbed with hairpins and nail polish. There were fancy writing papers and notebooks and account books. I was sure that all the treasures of the world were gathered into these dusty boxes and I was determined to see them all.

I walked slowly up one aisle and down the next, taking time to study the most interesting things that caught my eye. There was no one else in the store so I could touch and squeeze anything that looked special. Meanwhile, my grandmother was walking up and down, never hurrying me or seeking to influence my decision making; there were no chairs for her to sit and rest, so she patiently paced up and down waiting for me. My grandmother was ahead of her time in many ways and was an athlete in an age when women always moved with decorum and, of course, never sweat.

I still remember what I chose: one large green rubber eraser, a box of incense that was wrapped in delicate Chinese tissue paper (I had no idea what incense was) and a yellow and red mechanical pencil that had the multiplication tables from one to twelve printed on the barrel. My final purchase was a small blue glass vial of Evening in Paris cologne with a tassel attached to the bottle.

What a wonderful, memorable day, so long ago, yet I remember with pleasure each and every purchase. And my patient grandmother who never said, “What do you want that for?” or “What a silly thing to spend money on!” And I remember her with gratitude for her loving gift of a whole day of her time and five dollars to spend as I chose.


Want to receive a monthly round-up of our most popular posts?