Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Memories of working at Hopkins Grocery

Part 2: How to Candle Eggs and Make Sack Dresses

Gerald McKibben

There were customs in the fifties related to the grocery business in a small town that young people today wouldn’t know anything about. Many farm families brought eggs to town to sell. Some of the bus riders would bring their eggs into the store the first thing after arriving. We would take the eggs into the adjoining feed room (more about the feed room later) to “candle” them. There was a wooden box, called a candler, with a light bulb, and a hole in the top too small for an egg to go through. We would place the egg in the hole and examine it briefly for a red spot. Egg shells are semi-transparent, and you can see through the entire egg with a light behind it. The reason that was necessary is because, on the farm, you would have chickens and roosters, so most of the eggs might be fertile. That’s no problem, as long as they are gathered daily and refrigerated. But if allowed to incubate for several days the embryo would begin to form and show up as a red spot. These we discarded. The rest were taken into the store for resale.

About that feed room. We sold livestock feed, in a big room accessed through swinging doors from the grocery store. Feed was sold in cloth bags, not paper ones like today. And the companies used printed designs – flowers or some decorative pattern – that the ladies would use to make dresses. After emptying the bags you could unravel the string that had been used to stitch the bag and then you would have, I suppose, a yard or so of material. Joyce reminded me that the dresses were not considered “dress” clothes, but were for everyday wear only. And an experienced seamstress could make shirts or pants from the material as well.

It took more than one bag to make a dress, so often I or one of the other boys would be called upon to go with the customer into the feed room so the lady could pick out the pattern she wanted. Sometimes the one she wanted would be under several other bags, in which case you had to remove the others to get to the desired one. The bags weighed 50 pounds. We would load the one she wanted onto those two wheel trucks and take them to their vehicle for them. Christian Dior, eat your heart out!

In the third and final part of this series I tell about working behind the meat counter.

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