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Treasure City in the 1960's

I just sent off a credit card payment for Christmas gifts ordered online, one of my favorite shopping methods nowadays. Is it laziness to want to avoid the malls and big store crowds? Maybe so, but I no longer go from store to store looking for the right gift, or right size, or right color of anything. I let my fingers do the walking... not through the yellow pages, but through my computer keyboard. There are lots of great buys on the internet these days, and from some of the same stores as at the mall. Except online they always have blue. (Blue jeans, blue shirts, blue towels, whatever.)

In the late 1960's I'd never heard of a credit card but most stores had layaway plans. For a few dollars down you could reserve holiday presents till a week or so before Christmas, when you hauled your goodies home and hid them under the bed or up in the attic. Along the way you had to make regular payments, of course, or whatever you'd laid away would vanish back onto the store shelves. All in all it was very helpful to young couples with youngsters who expected Santa to bring the latest Mattel toys.

One year to help out with Christmas costs I took an extra part-time job. The Monday after Thanksgiving I left my regular secretarial work at quitting time and headed out to become a cashier at Treasure City on Highway 301 North. Today we take Wal-Mart and Lowes for granted but in those days Treasure City was unique. Like today's big-box stores it featured every imaginable kind of department, plus a super snack bar.

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" played over the loudspeaker. Extra toys, bicycles and Christmas trees were everywhere, and so were the customers, driving in from all over the Pee Dee to take advantage of holiday specials.

To get the job as a money-handler I had to pass a lie-detector test. Unfortunately I flunked the test. The machine called me a liar on the date, the day of the week, my name, address, eye color, everything but they hired me anyway. I guess they figured if I lied about anything it would show up as the truth, so in a way they could still figure out the results.

I discovered a love of hot dogs at Treasure City. Every supper break found me at the snack bar munching on the best hot dog I've ever tasted. It had the normal weiner, bun, catsup and mustard, but they added heaping helpings of cole slaw, pickle relish, chopped onions and chili. Yummmm! A few breath mints for desert obliterated onion breath; after all, it's not a real hot dog without onions!

That first afternoon I arrived a few minutes early, donned my blue smock and took over my register. By the end of the shift my feet were tired, my fingers were tired and my brain was tired. And I still had to total up all those dollar bills, fives and tens, plus coins. Cash and checks had to balance with the internal register tape or else. Or else I had to make up the deficit, that is. It was okay if I wound up with a few cents over but never okay if I came up a few cents under.

One evening my register rang up about $75.00 short. It wasn't exactly $75.00, it was something odd, like $74.37. Panic-stricken, I went back through every bill of every denomination, re-counted every check, every nickel and dime. I had resigned myself to having a short paycheck when suddenly a light bulb went on in my head. A man had purchased items in sporting goods, then brought some bluejeans to my check-out. He plunked everything down on the counter and began fumbling in his pocket. I had already rung up his fishing tackle and shotgun shells before he pulled out his receipt. I should have voided the transaction and started over but with a long noisy line behind him, I simply subtracted that amount from his total and made a mental note to fix it later. My supervisor was very understanding; I wasn't the first newbie to make that awful mistake.

It was nearly closing time one evening when a tired woman with two cranky children pushed her loaded shopping cart my way. It contained a few toys but mostly warm winter clothes for the kids. I rung everything up and bagged the doll baby, fire truck, jackets and pants. When she handed me her check I flipped through a "bad check" list to be sure her name wasn't on it, but it was.

She could tell from my expression I couldn't accept her check before I ever said the words "I'm sorry." She silently grabbed the kids' hands and walked toward the exit with tears running down her face. As her little girl asked "What about our stuff, mama?" my heart went out to her. I said a little prayer for her and the children as I cancelled the transaction and turned to the next customer.

That was my first and last season as a part-time holiday cashier at Treasure City. As my own children exclaimed over their new toys and winter clothes that Christmas morning, I thought again about that young mother and said another prayer. Whenever I drive down 301 North and pass Treasure City, I still do.

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