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Useful And Fantastic: Fine Words - Butter, But No Parsnips

It's amazing when young eyes see and young ears hear when they go on a shopping trip with mother.

Val Yule tells an enticing tale.

Mr Bessel is the proprietor of the local Four Square store. My mother visits him once a week to purchase her groceries. I look forward to these visits, but I’m a little bit scared of Mr Bessel. He wears a long white apron that covers his clothes, and he talks a lot. He says things that I don’t really understand. He always seems to have a grin on his face, and gives a funny little laugh when he talks. Mother giggles in an odd sort of way when he winks at her, and I’ve sometimes noticed that her cheeks are a funny reddish colour when she leaves the shop.

A shopping trip for my mother usually involves a bike-ride to the main street, with me perched on the dicky-seat at the back. I’m too young to go to school, so she takes me with her on her shopping trips, and we are usually home again before the big ones get home from school.

She sometimes visits some of the other shops in the main street; like Miss Reed’s for underwear and dresses, Mrs Minns for haberdashery items, Mr Tamms for meat and sausages, and sometimes Mr Clark’s for a cup of tea with some other ladies. Mr Clark’s is next to the town hall, where he shows movie pictures every Saturday. My mother always leaves her visit to Mr Bessel’s shop until last.

Mr Bessel’s shop is always an interesting place to visit. He stores his goods all around his shop in boxes, in drawers, on shelves, tucked away under the counter, in a back room, and in a special room Mother tells me is called the cool room.

I’ve seen the ice man come through the back door of Mr Bessel’s shop, and wheel three or four large blocks of ice in a special cart and take them into the cool room. In there Mr Bessel stores things like milk and eggs and cream and butter and other things that need to be kept cold. He doesn’t sell ice cream though – only Mr Clark sells that because he’s got a proper refrigerator and freezer box in his shop.

Mr Bessel has tea, and flour, and sugar in big tea chests stacked against the wall near the front door of the shop. If someone wants to buy something like that, Mr Bessel carries a big brown paper bag over to the tea chest, scoops out the amount required, and then weighs it on a big set of scales that he keeps on his counter. He keeps herbs and spices, and lollies, and loose biscuits in drawers behind the counter. Packets, boxes, bottles, and tins of things like breakfast cereal, cocoa, and Kia-ora cordial are stored on shelves against the same wall above the drawers. Fruit and vegetables are kept on shelves near the window, so if you’re going past the window and Mr Bessel is collecting fruit or vegetables to sell to someone, he’ll wink at you as you go past.

My mother says that Mr Bessel looks like Clark Gable. She’s shown me his picture on a poster in front of Mr Clark’s shop and the picture theatre. I think he sounds like an actor in the pictures too, because when he talks to my mother he sounds like he’s acting. He often says to her when she goes into his shop, “What light by yonder window shines? It is the east and Juliet is the sun.”

My mother’s name is Julie, and that makes her smile. I’ve heard him put on his pretend actor voice and say a little poem or sing a little song to other people too. I like repeating some of the things he says, like “Juliet is the sun.” It makes me feel good when I say funny words like that to myself.

After tea, I’m allowed to play on the floor-rug near the fireplace with my dolls until it’s time for bed. When the washing-up’s been done and the others are doing homework, mother sometimes sits in front of the fire in her armchair and darns socks while my father reads the paper. One night I heard my mother tell my father about what Mr Bessel says when she walks into the shop. “What light by yonder window shines. It is the east and Juliet is the sun”, and it made my father laugh. He said, “They are fine words that Geoffrey Bessel says - fine words indeed.”

Now I know what adults call the way Mr Bessel talks.

Last week my mother was in a hurry when she went to the shops. She had to call on Mrs Minns who’d been sick, so she was running late when she realised she still had to buy some sausages for tea, AND buy some groceries from Mr Bessel. So she asked me to do a little errand for her. She wrote down on a piece of paper a list of items that she had to buy from Mr Bessel’s. She told me to take the list into the shop and give it to Mr Bessel, wait for him to get the groceries for me, and then meet her outside the shop afterwards. I was a little bit scared of going into Mr Bessel’s shop all by myself, but I did it.

I noticed there were only two things written on the list, but I didn’t know what they were, because I can’t read many words yet. Mr Bessel had just finished serving someone when he noticed me in front of the counter, so he leaned over and sang a funny little song to me, which had my name in it. I was scared when he did this, so I can’t remember how the song went. When he asked me why I had come in without my mother, I explained how we were in a hurry, and I gave him mother’s list.

He read it and just kept singing his funny little song. He went into the cool room and came out with a piece of butter that he had cut off a large block he had in there. He took it to the counter and wrapped it up in a square of greaseproof paper. He looked at the list again and then went to the front of the shop, where he kept the fruit and vegetables. He was there for a long time, moving things around and talking to himself. He finally came back to me and said; “Tell your mother I don’t have any parsnips today.” He just kept smiling and singing while he wrote something in a big book. When I left the shop, I remembered to say “Thank you” on my way out.

My mother was a bit flustered and in a hurry when she rode along the street from Mr Tamm’s shop. She picked me up and put me on the back of the bike and asked me what Mr Bessel had said. I remembered what my father said about how Mr Bessel talks, so this is what I told my mother:

“Mr Bessel had some fine words to say to me, Mother. Here’s the butter. Oh! And he had no parsnips.”


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