Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Idora Tucker: Downtown Randolph in the 1940s and '50s

Memories of a time when nobody talked about buying local. You just did it.

I was married less than a week after graduating from college and a few months later Ransom was called into the service.  We spent the next few years away from Randolph, but in late 1945, just after the end of WW II, we returned and moved into our new home on Highland Avenue.  Our acquisition of our home is in itself an illustration of the way in which business was conducted at the time. Several months before the end of the war I was living in San Francisco and Ransom was the ship’s doctor on a troop transport, carrying servicemen to and from the Pacific war. Our parents, both Ransom’s and mine, contacted us and advised us that we should buy a house soon.  They told us that right after the war was over real estate would increase in value dramatically.  We asked them to get together, to select a house for us, and we would send any money needed to seal the purchase. They selected the house, drew a floor plan for us, we sent a very modest down payment to the local Savings and Loan.  That bank (note the word local) would hold the house for us without further payment until we were back in Randolph.  The house, selected for us when I was 23 years old, is still my residence now that I am nearly 90.
The hot water tank was in the bathroom, on the second floor above the kitchen.  I never understood why only about half the 25-gallon tank got warmish – never hot.  My sister Ruth and her husband lived with us during some of that time.  I sent the laundry to a local person, as we had no washer.  You can imagine what our baths were like.  We had no shower, so Ransom took most of his showers at the hospital.  The rest of us did the best we could.  I heated water for dishes on the stove.  Needless to say, one of our highest priorities was to purchase a hot water heater, so as soon as there was one available, I called the local hardware store, J.H. Lamson and Sons.  I told old Mr. Lamson that I wanted to buy a 50-gallon hot water tank.  That sent him into a state of complete disbelief.  “Girlie,” he shouted into the phone, “what are you going to do with FIFTY GALLONS OF HOT WATER?”  I calmly replied, “I’m going to wash things.”  I was by then accustomed to being addressed in this manner, the young and younger-looking na├»ve wife of a respected doctor.  I did get my water tank and have had one that size to this day and it has been a rare day when we have run out of hot water.
There were other pressing needs.  We purchased a refrigerator that I used for many years.  As an adult, my son Jim took the refrigerator when I replaced it.  We had to buy a kitchen range and a washing machine.  All those items were purchased locally.  Besides Lamson’s Hardware, there was Scribner’s that advertised “everything for the kitchen but the girl.”  The Scribner family also owned The Music Shop.  It was not a bit unusual for members of local families to own more than one business.  The Lamson family also ran a furniture store.  The Tewksbury family were owners or part owners of the clothing store known as Tewksbury and Raymond, as well as Tewksbury and Mayo, the latter in the funeral business, I think.
It was very important to me at that time to be able to purchase almost everything locally. Besides the convenience of not having to go out of town, if anything did go wrong with any of my purchases I could contact the local merchant who would be able to get it straightened out.
As the children came along there was, of course, more and more shopping to be done.  We had only one car, so I walked downtown several times a week, taking the children with me, doing only a few errands in each trip.  Besides getting some of the shopping done in small amounts, it also served the purpose of getting the children outside.  The downtown atmosphere was very relaxed.  I could go into any store, buy anything, if I didn’t have the money with me to pay for it, the store would put it on my tab until I did pay at some future time.  On one occasion I was buying groceries at one of the first stores in town that was a member of a national chain.  My grocery cart was piled high as I was doing my big grocery shopping of the week and had the car to bring home my purchases.  Next in line behind me at the checkout counter was a well-known local gentleman, a judge, no less.  He looked at my cart and at the children, and remarked, “I’m glad I don’t have to pay your grocery bill.”  On another similar occasion I had loaded my week’s groceries into the station wagon when that ornery vehicle quit on me right in the middle of Merchant’s Row.  Fortunately, a neighbor pulled up right behind me in her car.  We moved my groceries and my kids into her car and proceeded toward my house.  We passed by the filling station where we usually had our car serviced, pulled into a space in front of the station, and I said to the proprietor, “Bob, my car has quit on me and it’s standing in the middle of Merchant’s Row.  I have a ride home. Will you go get the car and do whatever it needs?” He did. At that time, that’s the way it was.  We were neighbors and friends who trusted and helped one another.

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