#76: Nuns in a Cash Register Store

October 22nd, 2012

If you’re reading this, lady with the sad quavery eyes, I’m sorry I lied to you.

You said you would rather not talk, and I said OK. You said once you got started, you wouldn’t be able to stop. The implication was that would make you cry. I said I understood and put away my notepad.

I’m sorry, kind dear, but it turns out I lied. It turns out I couldn’t not tell this story.

I’ll keep the names out and the places as vague as possible, but you’re closing soon, taking what’s left of your store out of town and out of state. To Munster, Indiana. A nice place — I’ve been there. But not where you’ve been for…

“We’ve only been here for 27 years,” the happy old workman joked when I said I’d never seen the place before.

“Can’t keep up with these fly by night places,” I joked back.

I had come because a driver had cut me off, sending me and my bike down a road I don’t usually take. I passed a store selling cash registers; some antique, some not. Paper taped in the windows said you were closing, said everything must go and offered sale prices.

Through those storefront windows, I saw a woman who turned out to be you talking to two nuns in full habit.

Nuns in a cash register store.

“Oh, I’ve got to,” I said out loud to myself.

The nuns turned out to be uninteresting, although one was charmingly excited about recognizing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” on the radio. The store and the old workman, 51 years in the cash register trade and 31 working for you, turned out to be the story.

He’s going into retirement when the store closes. You’re going into Indiana.

The old workman talked about the 120 year history of the store name, about the decades you and your late husband owned it.

He died last year, your husband. The store has become too hard to work without him, the workman said. I’m sorry I repeated that online.

The workman showed me old registers, told me when they were made. He showed me one from 1911, 300 pounds of brass and buttons, $1,200 now in its semi-working state.

“If it was fully restored, you’re talking big, big money,” the workman said.

We laughed and joked. He gave me old addresses where the store was, where he worked for the 20 years of cash registers before he met you. He told me which pictures were from the store’s rich past, which were just old pictures of people with cash registers.

And once the nuns left, chatting about the Beatles, he introduced me to you.

It turns out I lied to you, ma’am, when I put away my notepad and we just talked. Once again, I’ve turned a human moment into words and phrases. I can’t help myself — it’s how I process the world.

Since I didn’t have my pad, I couldn’t write down if you said “dying trade” or “dying field.” I can’t remember the exact wording when you said you didn’t blame young people for not wanting to learn old registers. My brain lost the precise phrase used when you gestured to a picture of your late husband, more love in the single sweep of a finger than I’ve experienced in all my life.

But there was thing you said that stuck. It was during our goodbyes, after I called your store “really cool.”

“You should have seen it when it was something,” you said as I turned to walk away.

I did, ma’am. I did.

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You are currently reading #76: Nuns in a Cash Register Store by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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