Margie Assays Chaos At Best’s

Here is a letter Margie Perrone wrote to her mother (Huna) who had gone to Fort Smith, Arkansas to visit an old friend.

Stephen was three years younger than his sister Nanda.  Best’s was a department store in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.  The Institute is a mental hospital in Philadelphia.  Elsie Washington was our daytime babysitter who weighed over 350 pounds.  She moved slowly and reluctantly.

One evening, after work, I came home to find Elsie tidying the mantlepiece decorations and her mother Grace – seventy five yeas old – cleaning a table top.  Dorothy, our babysitter for that evening, had arrived early and she too was bustling about.  Margie had not yet returned from her job in center city.  

Grace, in the neighborhood to clean somebody’s house, had showed up to be driven home by her daughter.  Grace may have shamed Elsie, perhaps ordered her to get busy.  Dorothy too, had been cowed into polishing something or other.  Grace had been my mother-in-laws’s housekeeper thirty years earlier.  Her mantra was to improve the shining hour.  At a glance, I saw three imposing black women wearing, by chance, nearly identical smocks or smock-like dresses.

 Three retainers in livery!  I was then earning under six thousand dollars a year, about the same as Margie.

Dear Mother,

Please excuse awful paper, only thing ready at hand.

We are all thinking of you and trying to imagine what you are doing.  I hope you are having plenty of good gossip, good drinks and good steaks.  Perhaps something has been done about the itch.

Children seem a little lost without Huna, and so do I, but I am comforted by the thought that you really needed a change.  And if you had accompanied us yesterday to Best’s you would today be a patient at the Institute.  So you must congratulate yourself for missing that expedition.  In the future, when a trip to Best’s is planned, you would be well advised to flee to Fort Smith.  Just so you can really appreciate your good fortune, I will describe this expedition in some detail.

In the first place, we were accompanied by Tom D’Agostino who telephoned a few days earlier to say he was in Washington and Annie Claude would join him late next month.  So naturally I invited him for the weekend.  And he took the shopping trip quite good naturedly.  Our first goal was, of course, the shoe department which I simply dread with good reason.  As usual, there were a dozen people already there, but for a while things were quite pleasant.

Stevie made friend with a darling little boy while Nanda examined the latest horrors in dress-up shoes.  I amused myself listening  to pre-teens and their mamas discussing fashion.  However I made my first mistake when I let Tom and Carlo take over while I went on a fruitless quest for jeans for Stevie.  I returned just in time to prevent them from buying white sneakers for S, and I sat firmly down to take matters in hand.  One navy pair of sneakers and one navy pair of bedroom slippers later I went off to the ladies room and this time I returned in the middle of a crisis.

They had no round-toed sneakers for little girls and Nanda was objecting to the pointier ones the saleslady had brought.  “All right,” said Carlo, “you don’t have to wear sneakers ever again.”   And he pulled them off while the saleslady’s eyebrows climbed and all the other customers leaned forward with interest.

“Let’s look at sandals,”  I intervened and attempted to draw to Carlo’s attention to the fact that Stevie in his new sneakers (which I realize now are red, not navy, due to presence of blue toe-plates) was tearing at high speed through the boy’s department.   Somehow I packed off all the troublesome males to the rocking horse at the other end of the floor and turned my attention to the saleslady who was trying to tell me that they no longer made sandals in sizes as large as Nanda’s.  Nanda (who, I forgot to mention,was still crying) then began to howl and greeted each alternative style of shoe with piercing shrieks of loathing.  Finally a fairly acceptable substitute was presented and tried on (“It feels horrible.”   “No it doesn’t, dear.”) and bought despite desperate protests and significant expressions on the faces of all the waiting customers, who should have been grateful for the dispatch with which I accomplished things.  We managed to order round toed sneakers from New York and head sullenly to find the others.

There’s more.  While I was spending $22.50 on shorts, jerseys and such casual wear to propitiate Nanda, Carlo and Tom became totally involved in a jolly discussion with a saleswoman, thus leaving Stevie to his own devices.  He discovered a clothing dummy tucked into a quilted sleeping bag.  With loud chortles he unzipped the bag to get a better look at the dummy which to his noisy delight, was nude.

By the time I got Carlo back to earth Stevie was telling anyone who would listen (and plenty would) that he was looking for “her belly button.”  In the meantime the jolly distracting saleslady was saying “You’re not really going to buy a turtle?”   So we left in the midst of much good feeling after all, Nanda wearing her new bib-shorts and chukker cloth jersey and Stevie tripping over his sneakers.
Next stop was the pet shop where we bought two turtles, two goldfishes, one turtle bowl, one goldfish bowl, one box goldfish food, one box turtle food, gravel, a turtle bowl conditioner and goldfish water conditioner.   So you can be prepared for new members of the family, although I’m not sure how many will survive until your return.

I should also mention that for reasons now unclear Solomon Uwaifo of Nigeria spent Thursday and Friday nights with us.  Dinners too.  And Elsie, perhaps in protest, did a record low amount of work on Friday.  But Tom has gone now and things seem to be settling down.

That should combat any homesickness you may have felt!  Do get a good rest and have fun.  And give my love to Clemmie and Aunt Helen.

Best love,


P.S.  Nanda now tells me that she loves her new shoes.