A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Parsley's 5 Cents to One Dollar
I can thank Parsley’s Store for the fact that I still have pretty good teeth. When my sister and I were little, we, like most kids, really hated going to the dentist. Never mind that Dr. Luther was one of the kindest and best dentists there ever was, it still was just a generally unpleasant experience. One day, after listening to my sister and I cry and complain about our upcoming dentist visit, Mama told us that after we got finished at the dentist, we could go over to Parsley’s and get a book. That not only quieted us down but started a tradition that continued on for many years.
Parsley’s was a downtown institution. They had just about anything a person needed, and in particular anything a kid needed. When we came from the dentist office, since it was located on Washington Street, we entered Parsley’s through the back door. It always felt to me like we were doing something illegal when we went in that way. But there was Mr. Parsley, smiling to greet us, and Helen Faye Taff was usually behind the counter or waiting on a customer. Just to the right of the counter was our destination: The Little Golden Books. I seem to recall that they cost 35 cents each. Janet and I would carefully look over the titles and the colorful front covers. We could only get one book; we would have to share, so it had to be something that appealed to both of us. Some of the titles that became part of our collection included Sneezer, a story about a courageous little train; Fuzzy Dan, a little book about a young cowboy who showed a preference for chaps made of felt (completely interactive book, the chaps were really fuzzy when you felt them on the front cover!); Over In The Meadow, a beautiful little book in the form of a poem that taught counting; Mr. Moggs’ Dogs, the story of a gentleman who had a lot of dogs; and Scaredy Cat, a story of a cat who overcame his fears and began using his given name, which on the last page was revealed to be Bill. Since he had the same name as me, I felt compelled to take that book to school and share it with my class. There were many other Little Golden Books that we bought, and most have survived over the years and still belong to my sister or me.
Other than our trips to the dentist, we normally entered Parsley’s through the front door. That was the best way to get the full Parsley’s experience. When you walked in, immediately to your left was the candy counter. Not candy bars, but good old bulk candy that you purchased individually. The pieces were handed to you in a little white paper sack, which is by far the best way to eat candy. To the right was all the stuff of interest to grown-ups like household items and dish towels, so we paid that part no mind. Just past the candy, also on the left side of the store, were the toys. Now let me tell you, there was no more wondrous place on the planet than the toy section of Parsley’s . And Mr. Parsley took great delight in showing off his latest toys to any kid who happened by. It was not a hard sell; I think Mr. Parsley was just enjoying the toys along with us. It was in this section that I discovered one of my all-time favorite childhood toys, Matchbox Series vehicles. Matchbox Series cars and trucks were small, very detailed representations of real vehicles. They were metal, very durable, and great fun. They were about the size of Hot Wheels, which came along a few years after Matchbox. But Hot Wheels were built for speed, with their thin wire axles that clogged irreparably whenever you played with them on dirt. Matchbox, on the other hand, was made for playing. You could make roads in the dirt and it didn’t hurt them. They came packaged along with a little cardboard box just about the size of a medium-sized matchbox, which had a picture of the car or truck on it. That was where you were supposed to store your vehicle. Of the dozens of Matchbox Series toys that I bought over the years, not a single box has survived. But my Matchbox vehicles did; I still have several of them. I think part of the allure of Matchbox vehicles was that they were made in England. Some of the cars and trucks that I bought (even a double-decker bus) seemed quite exotic to me.
Just past the toys, still on the left, was another wonderful section of the store: comic books. This is where I became friends with Archie, that perpetually happy Riverdale High School student; Betty, the wholesome and beautiful blonde classmate; Veronica, the darker and more mysterious beauty; Jughead, the goofy beatnik friend, and the somewhat sinister and conniving Reggie. I also liked The Sad Sack, a comic about a soldier that was similar to Beetle Bailey, another favorite. If there were no new Archie comics available, sometimes I bought Richie Rich or Casper. My older brothers had taught me that to be a truly frugal comic shopper, you needed to look through the cardboard box that was on the floor next to the comic rack. It was full of comics that had the top half of the front cover cut off. They were older comics that I guess Mr. Parsley got a refund on because they didn’t sell. Evidently he just had to turn in the part of the cover with the title on it, and the leftover part of the book could then be sold for a mere nickel, which was right in my price range.
The rest of the store was stationary, paper goods, and stuff that Mama was interested in, but not me. I loved going in that store; even loved just looking at the displays in the front windows. I guess it was what was known as a dime store. I have a couple of ceramic frogs that my grandmother, Vivian Waganer, gave me. I know they came from Parsley’s. On the bottom of one of the frogs is stamped “10 cents". On the bottom of the other one, my grandmother carefully printed out “BILLY” with a pencil, to make sure that I got those frogs after she passed away. I see those little frogs every morning on my bathroom counter as I’m getting ready for work, and I always think of two of my favorite things: my grandmother and Parsley’s.