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Thursday, July 19, 2018

The store beneath the stairs

When I was at Toms Brook Elementary, the downstairs was 1st through 4th grade and the upstairs was like Jr. High with 5th through 7th grade. We didn't mix the two much unless we had to go to the gym, cafeteria, or the principal's office. When we got to go upstairs we felt like we were really something. Tom's Brook Elementary was built in the 1930's as a high school and it closed in the early 1990's. It was later converted into apartments.

Picture credit: Shenandoah County Library Archives

When I was downstairs we used to man the school store. It was a very tiny store that was located in an old closet underneath the front stairway, off the main lobby. There you could buy pencils, erasers, paper, folders, and all sorts of school supply stuff. If we worked the store, we got credit to spend and sometimes the teachers would give you credit you could spend, for extra work or something. Everything was cheap, well cheap if you had any money at all, which I rarely did.

The school store was located just behind that post, under the stairs in the main lobby.

I still remember how it smelled. If you've ever emptied an old pencil sharpener that hung on the wall then you know the smell. It was of wood shavings and lead dust, with a touch of the scent from a big gum eraser. I wouldn't have thought much about the store, but on a recent trip, I walked into a store that brought that memory back by just the smell. I was in New York for work and we checked out CW Pencil Enterprise. Who knew someone could open a store for the same thing we did all those years ago. But, immediately upon walking in, a flood of memories of that little store came rushing in with me.

I remember the kids who had the fancy folders and those of us who had the basic ones. Those that could afford the biggest eraser available and those of us who just relied on the one at the end of the pencil we could afford. At one time I think we even sold little troll doll pencil tops. My neighbor had those, along with the fancy folders and big erasers. I was the closest thing she had to a sibling. Her mom always made sure the had everything. Well, it looked like everything at the time. Looking back it's a minute detail in my memories unless I begin to feel like that 4th grader who carried a little bit of envy. Not for the troll doll though, I think I carried a little bit of pity for her that she thought it was cool. I thought they were kinda stupid, so then I could think she was kinda stupid and I was kinda smart for not wanting one. I know it was wrong, but how else was I going to feel superior to her when she had all that flashy stuff.

This sign was behind the counter at the store. So, I knew I had to write a Tale.
Anyway, I walked around the store and looked at the simplicity of it all. It was just pencils, pens and erasers. You could spend a fortune on a pencil in there if you wanted to, or spend just a couple of dollars and get a few things. I found an old pencil vending machine in the back of the store. For just two quarters I could turn back time. You laid the quarters into the slots, pushed the tray in and out came a new vintage pencil from the 1940's and 50's. They are promotional pencils from various businesses. Nothing like what we had in the school store, but exactly like what I would find in the catchall drawer at grandmaw's house. And right next to the vending machine was one of those old wall pencil sharpeners, so of course, I had to sharpen my new old pencil. It just added to the familiar scent.