It may have been one of the very first portable buildings I remember. I’m sure there were many others before but this one had significance that none of the others had. I never saw this building delivered but I knew that it was going to show up about this time every year… right there at the corner by my dad’s store… you know the one… the corner of Main and McMorrine Sts. If you walked north on McMorrine, you would walk right past the Oxenda Newsstand.. sure you remember that.
Well, anyway, this strange little building would show up every year around Thanksgiving or so. I can remember they would drop an electric line down to it from the awning on my dad’s store. The purpose of the power was solely for powering a record player not unlike the one I described yesterday. The purveyor of this temporary establishment had installed one of those outdoor speakers that looked like one of those bullhorns you see the police use when trying to talk the hostage takers into letting the hostages go. But it’s purpose was obviously a lot less stressing. Actually, it was kind of nice to be able to walk out of my dad’s store and continue to hear Christmas music as you walked down the street.
But the purpose of this facility wasn’t just to provide music to entice Christmas shoppers. It was about men and women in uniforms… and a very large red kettle and a small tinkling bell. Yes, the Salvation Army would be out in force collecting for the needy. By the time the season was over I have to be quite honest, I was about sick of that bell. I heard it every day when I was working and it about drove me nuts. I could hear it constantly ringing in the background and it would grow louder and then softer again as patrons came in and out of the store.
I once told my dad that it was about to drive me crazy and he turned sharply and gave me “the dad” look. I’m sure most of you have seen it at least once of twice in your life… heck it was pretty much a daily occurence for me. But then immediately his facial expression softened and he said, “That is one of the greatest sounds I have ever heard.” He then proceeded to tell me a story from his youth… of a very cold winter and a young boy that couldn’t go to school because he didn’t have clothes that were warm enough to protect him from the elements. How this boy got behind, and was ashamed… and how the Salvation Army stepped in and provided him some warm clothes so he could return to school. “They can stand outside my store and ring that bell every day of the year as far as I’m concerned” he said as he completed the conversation.
After my dad retired, he spent every Christmas eve standing on the sidewalk somewhere in Elizabeth City ringing that bell for them… and every time I hear it today, I think about how they helped a young boy with warm clothes…. and restored a little bit of his dignity… and you know what… I really don’t mind it as much anymore.