The Co-op

We went to church on that Sunday morning of the Mullan School Centennial celebration. It was the first time I had been to a Lutheran Church in Mullan, but not the first time I had been to church there. I can remember going to Sunday School at the Congregational Church down the street when I was young, but my folks and I were not members. Actually, I went very regularly to Sunday School at one time and would have received a Bible as a reward for a year of faithful attendance if I had gone two more Sundays--then my folks and I went fishing one Sunday morning on opening day. I can't remember if I went back to that class after that but I know I didn't get a Bible.

As I said before, we went to church that Sunday morning. The old Morrow Retail Store is now the church and the store doesn't exist anymore. The Morrows in Wallace is still in operation, but I can't remember seeing it although Betty and I walked the streets there one afternoon during a lull in the Centennial activities. Both Mullan and Wallace have changed considerably in the thirty or forty years that I've been away. Come to think of it, so have I. Anyway, in church I met a few of my friends of old -- Walter Krulitz was the head usher and elder, and Louis Gorshe was his assistant. I didn't visualize either of the them as church members based on my association with them in the olden days and I don't suppose they would have thought of me as a church goer. We also met Norma Zimmer and her husband there. Betty remarked that she couldn't hear Norma singing the hymns but she had told Betty during the street dance that she had quit singing last March. I think she meant professionally. I thought the minister would ask her to sing a solo, but he didn't.

So far I haven't said a word that would relate to the Co-op which was one of six grocery stores in Mullan when I was a youngster. These stores were within two blocks of each other and were the bread baskets of Mullan, except for some who drove seven miles to Wallace to get some good bargains. In church we sat behind someone I knew and while waiting for the service to begin, we chatted with them--they were the Eddie Andersons. Eddie didn't recognize me until I told him that I had worked for him when he was the Co-op manager many years ago.

I worked in the store half days during times when school didn't interfere. I would stock shelves, take grocery orders over the phone and fill the orders, and finally deliver them using the store's Chevrolet panel truck. Filling the orders was a difficult task at times because the customers weren't always satisfied with the goodies I put in their grocery box. I told Eddie that he had paid me a paltry $40.00 a month--"That much?", he said, "I must have been out of my mind. I had to start selling insurance to make ends meet--there were some months I couldn't even pay me my salary." You can see that the Co-op was not a growing and prosperous concern, and has not been in operation for many years. Come to think of it, none of the six, Silfvasts (Finnish), Morrows, Beans, Co-op, Rizzonellis and Mullan. were no longer in operation. Garitones, I think, was the only store open in Mullan during our visit, and it didn't exist when I lived there. It seems like a lot of stores, but it took all of them to service the town, along with Harwood's Drug Store and Jack Clark's Drug Store, eight taverns, three churches (two active), and three service stations. Even a family doctor, Dr. Rolf, a dentist, Dr. Morgan, and a bank were needed for all the eighteen hundred or so people. Some interesting things happened when I worked at the Co-op. One time I had to deliver a half ton of coal to a certain building on Hunter Avenue, which was the second main street in town running East and West and was one block north of Earle Avenue, referred to as Main Street. Come to think of it, there were only two streets running that way through the business district. Well, anyway, I delivered the coal and the customer was pleased with the delivery. In fact she said she was sorry she didn't have a young girl there at the time to take care of a tip. I don't know what I would have done, if she did have the girl--as it was, I beat a hasty retreat, and never had to deliver coal there anymore. One day, Eddie Anderson asked me to open the store for him the next morning since he had some urgent business to take care of--perhaps an insurance prospect. I used to work only half days starting at noon so this was extra pay. The store personnel at the time consisted of Irene Partti (now Aro), clerk, Arnold Perrala, butcher, Eddie Anderson, manager and me, delivery boy, shelf stocker, custodian, and whatever. (we were all Finns.) Eddie left some change in the cash register for me in case a paying customer came in. Most customers charged their groceries and paid their bills monthly. So I was there, bright and early, acting as a very efficient grocery clerk.

One "paying" customer did come in while I was straightening out the shelves. We had a counter near the cash register and as the customers gave their order to the clerk, (or clerks) who would pick up the items from the shelves and bins, place them on the counter, list them on a bill and then bag them. Most often the customers would ask us to deliver their groceries since they usually walked from their homes. The store was too small to warrant having baskets or carts, and the customers didn't pick up their items from the shelves or bins as they do now. Well, anyway, the customer came in and asked for a can of Prince Albert. I put the can on the counter and then started making change for the twenty dollar bill (a fabulous amount in those days) he put on the counter, counting out silver dollars, coins and a couple of five dollar bills. When I was almost through, the customer said he would like another item and started shuffling through the money, confusing me no end. Then I remembered something that had happened the night before. I calmly put all of the change back into the register and asked him if there was anything more he wanted. "Forget it," he said, and walked out of the store without his can of Prince Albert.

The incident that I remembered from the night before? A couple of us boys had driven out to the Road House about two miles east of town to pick up the owners' (Finns incidently) daughter to take her to a dance in Wallace. This was something we did quite often on Friday evenings. We also picked up other girls, like neighbor girls and her friends. While we were at the road house, the owners asked if we would take their bar maid to town to the show. She was all shook up because a customer had come in, ordered beer with a twenty dollar bill, and then added some other items, finally leaving the tavern with twenty dollars in change, and his twenty dollar bill. She figured her mistake after he had driven away. The movie showing that evening was a gruesome murder mystery but I can't remember the name of it. Oh, by the way, the "customer" wasn't so fortunate in Wallace. He tried his gimmick at a cafe where his waiter happened to be the town constable.

My mother did a lot of gardening during the summers and one time she had a rhubarb plant that just wouldn't quit. We had rhubarb sauce, pies and puddings with rhubarb and ate raw, sugared rhubarb, and still there were stalks--she gave rhubarb to neighbors and friends, and one day asked if I wouldn't take some to the grocery store to sell. The manager was happy to receive gratuitous gifts and marked them for sale at five cents a pound. One of the first customers, a friend of ours, Mrs. Otto Sivil bought the whole batch.

That evening when I got home, my mother asked how the rhubarb had sold and I told her that Mrs. Sivil had bought it all. She started laughing, and I asked her what was so funny. To me there wasn't any humor in selling rhubarb. It turned out that the day before, Mrs. Sivil had been visiting and was impressed with my mother's gardening. She asked how she had managed to grow such an abundance of lovely rhubarb. My humorist mother explained that the plants needed rich soil which she had gotten from our dairy friends, the Hendricksons of Larson, and added that of course the dogs that visited the plants had helped a lot too. Mrs. Sivil refused the gift of rhubarb from my mother, and so I felt that there really was some humor in selling rhubarb. Betty and I like rhubarb pie and tried unsuccessfully to grow some in our back yard. Our stalks (or stems) were spindly and the plants finally faded out of existence. Maybe we should have had the plant in a sunnier spot with some rich soil from a dairy farmer, and even a few dogs.

Usually the deliveries weren't a great problem since the town was small and the 1800 people all lived within a mile or two of the store. One delivery per month was to Wallace--yes, Wallace people came to Mullan sometimes to pick up bargains too. Their bill for a truck load of groceries came to about thirty dollars. Of course it wasn't a very big truck, but neither are the two bags of groceries we now get for thirty dollars.

Christmas time was sometimes bad, especially one time when there was a heavy snowfall and three feet of it fell in a thirty hour period. My dad and I shoveled snow off our roof twice during that time. The day before Christmas people used the phone or walked in to buy groceries, all of which meant we had to deliver. One of the Co-op members with a pickup truck volunteered to help us--he delivered the coal to Hunter Avenue that time and didn't wait for a tip, either. A friend of mine, John Soini, who had learned to drive helping me in daily deliveries, agreed to deliver in my place. I was needed in the store to fill up grocery boxes for delivery, stack shelves, clean up messes and--but I've told of my duties before. Of the six stores delivering groceries that day, only one delivery boy didn't get stuck in snow banks. I asked John how come and he said he didn't mind carrying groceries up unplowed streets.

I've had many small jobs in my life, but for a lot more money than forty dollars a month. Working in mines, for instance, paid six dollars a day--although wear and tear on clothes and shoes and dirty working conditions did bring down the value of the pay check. I wonder how much the grocery clerks at the malls get these days, and do they sell rhubarb at five cents a pound?