the home of my paternal grandparents. The only thing in between was the home of The Owner. The Owner terrified us. She had terrified my father when he was small too. The shop however was another matter.
It was small. It had an aroma all of its own, polished timber, flour, sugar, cheese, bacon, washing powder and cleaning fluid. They all came together to form General Store Perfume.
There was a wooden floor, so worn that there was a slight dip where you trod on the mat that caused the bell to ring and announce the arrival of a customer. My brother could jump over the mat so that the bell did not ring. It got him into trouble more than once.
Once you were over the mat you stood on floor boards swept daily, sometimes several times daily, by "Hazel". Hazel, if she ever had another name nobody knew it and even the children called her Hazel, worked for The Owner. She was, by then, in her late fifties or early sixties, no make-up. Under her white shop overall Hazel was a plain dresser who wore her hair in a plait around her head. She rode an heavy old fashioned bicycle to and from the shop. It was something she had done ever since she started working there at the age of fourteen.
Hazel never had a lot to say. Hazel was much too busy.
Sugar was not pre-packed in those days. It came in gigantic hessian bags sewn along the top with cotton. Hazel would snip one end of the cotton and the whole row would unravel revealing a quarry of sugar. She would mine the sugar into brown paper bags on an old fashioned black scale with shiny brass weights. Then she would fold the tops and, somehow tie them with brown string from a great reel hanging near by. We found this fascinating.
My grandmother would sometimes send me in for my grandfather's cheese. He liked the strong matured cheddar and often ate it with fruitcake. My grandmother bought it in small portions as she did not eat it. Using a cheese wire Hazel would slice two or four ounces from a great wheel. There was always a 'rind' of cheesecloth on the outer. Watching Hazel work the cheese wire was a breath holding moment. Would something that looked so flimsy be able to cut the cheese? Would I have to go back and tell my grandmother the cheese wire had broken? Somehow it always worked. If The Owner was not to be seen Hazel would sneak me a tiny crumb of cheese. It tasted divine.
Sometimes I would be asked to get 'cheese biscuits' as well. These were biscuits for cheese rather than biscuits which contained cheese. They came loose in a large, square tin. They were Swallow's Captain's biscuits. Rectangular in shape, they had a small round mark pressed into them. If given one I was always careful to eat right around the mark first and then eat the round piece last of all.
Hazel and The Owner would work all day on lists left by customers and these would be delivered by The Boy on his bicycle with the big basket at the front. Even my grandmother would have her order delivered by The Boy. If The Boy was not there for any reason then Hazel would do the deliveries. I suppose she took holidays. I am not sure when. The range of goods must have been limited but the service, despite the snappy manner of The Owner, was utterly reliable.
It was with more than a little alarm that I read in the paper of Woolworth's plans to open a new chain of 'corner convenience stores'. They claim these stores will fill a need and that they will be like the old fashioned grocery store of the past. Utter nonsense! No mini-mini-supermarket cum delicatessan filled with modern, pre-prepared convenience foods could compare with The Owner's shop. I am lucky to know that.