Sunday, January 02, 2011

“Hamglaze Holiday”

c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a chilly day at the Get Go in Chardon.

Holiday decorations dangled from the counter. Local shoppers were busy buying gasoline, gift cards, and snacks. But I had come to meet an old friend.

She was waiting when I arrived.

Carrie Hamglaze was bundled up in layers of Hilltopper red and Irish green. She trundled across the store with melting snow dripping from her wool hat.

“Rodney!” she exclaimed. “I’m so glad you are here!”

I nodded with a grin.

“Of course,” I said. “We haven’t talked in months. But, why at a fuel depot? Wouldn’t you rather go to New York Deli or Joey’s Italian Grille?”

My friend offered a stern reply.

“It had to be here!” she insisted. “Get Go has the best coffee! And I had free coupons!”

“Right,” I agreed.

She took a seat by the window, then opened her purse.

“I’ve got one for a free hot beverage and a breakfast croissant,” she bragged. “It’s in my bag, somewhere…”

A helpful clerk gestured from the counter.

“Never mind, Carrie,” she laughed. “We know you here.”

I unzipped my leather jacket. Frost made my nose tingle.

“So, what have you been writing about lately?” Carrie asked.

“Well,” I explained, “A red shopping cart from Fisher’s Big Wheel appeared at a local flea market, over the summer. It was stashed behind their main building. Being used to move goods around, I reckon. Anyway, that put me in a nostalgic mood. I left my business card in case the item was for sale. But they never called back.”

My friend sat upright in her chair.

“So, did you ever buy it?” she chirped.

I nodded again. “Yeah, in the fall. An offer of twenty dollars sealed the bargain. They must’ve thought I was crazy. But Big Wheel was where my retail career began.”

I took out my cell phone and showed her a photo of the cart.

“There were two sizes used by the company,” I recalled. “This is the smaller version.”

Carrie crinkled up an outdated coupon.

“Blast it!” she complained. “That was for a free fountain drink and bagel sandwich! But I waited too long.”

I was slightly embarrassed. My face reddened in the pale sunlight.

“Sorry,” she coughed. “So, you worked at Big Wheel?”

“Beginning in 1984,” I said. “They were doing a remodel at the time...”

“I don’t remember much about that store,” she confessed.

I took a folded sheet of paper from my pocket. “There is so little information left about the company. But I found a couple of paragraphs on Wikipedia.”

Quietly, I began to read the page out loud:

“Fisher's Big Wheel was a discount department store chain based in New Castle, Pennsylvania, United States. The company operated stores under the Fisher's Big Wheel and Buy Smart names. At its peak, the chain comprised more than 100 stores in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. The chain declared bankruptcy in 1993, selling some stores to Pamida and closing others. The chain closed in 1994. Fisher's Big Wheel consolidated in 1939 following the consolidation of the Fisher Dry Goods company of New Castle, Pennsylvania and a hardware store called Big Wheel. While based in the New Castle area, its headquarters were actually in Neshannock Township just north of the city. The company's flagship store was located next door, and was used as a prototype store. After the company's liquidation, the headquarters became various medical offices, while supermarket chain Giant Eagle consolidated two nearby locations and moved into the former flagship store. The company also had a store in Shenango Township east of the city, which has since been subdivided into a Big Lots, Family Dollar, and a Goodwill thrift store. Fisher's Big Wheel primarily located in smaller towns which were not already served by other discount retailers, while in other markets, it competed directly with such discounters as Zayre, Kmart, Wal-Mart and Hills Department Store.”

“It was a fun place to work,” I remembered fondly.

Carrie tilted her head to one side. “Do you see any of the crew around town?”

“Not very often,” I answered. “But my old boss is a manager at Junction Auto. He’s been there for years.”

“Selling cars?” she stammered with disbelief.

“Yes,” I said. “Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.”

My friend shook her head. “Well, anyway, I wanted to exchange gifts with you!”

I nodded once more. “Of course!”

She slid a small package wrapped in festive colors across the table. I produced my own present and placed it next to her stack of coupons.

“Merry Christmas!” we cheered, together.

Carrie opened her box first. It was a CD of Irish folk tunes recorded at the Great Geauga County Fair by the Huntsburg Kazoo Ensemble.

“A splendid gift!” she bubbled. “Wait a minute… KAZOOS?”

“Give it a listen,” I promised. “You’ll be amazed.”

She gestured with a coffee stirrer. “Okay, your turn!”

I tore my box open to reveal a copy of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ rendered on a giant maple leaf.

“Wow!” I exclaimed.

“Done by a friend of mine from the library,” she boasted. “The leaf was coated with lacquer, to preserve it forever.”

“Thank you, friend!” I said.

Finally, Carrie had reached the end of her coupon stack. She looked at the store clock impatiently. “Well, I have a meeting at nine. Be well, Rodney!”

I had barely begun to sip my coffee.

“You’re leaving already?” I stammered.

She whipped her scarf in the air. It nearly covered her chin.

“Happy Holidays!” she shouted. Her hat glistened with tinsel strands. A trail of melted snow dripped from her boots. In only a moment, she was gone.

I had shared a bit of Yuletide cheer with one of the county’s most unique personalities.

Now, my holiday experience was complete!

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