When I was very small, there was department store across from the Summerville Post Office on Richardson Avenue called Mr. Pete’s, a cavernous space in a clapboard building. I think that Mr. Pete was a Greek immigrant, though I’m not sure. I am, certain, however, that he sold toys, and I remember a long bin along one of the walls filled with a variety of tiny plastic soldiers that went for a penny a piece. It had only been a decade since WW2’s close, and if my memory serves me, Mr. Pete also sold some army surplus items. I also recall dolls of both races standing on shelves staring blankly out over the merchandise.
Over the course of time, I amassed quite a collection of soldiers, which we would set up as armies on opposite sides of our bedroom floor, and take turns rolling marbles to knock them over, the winner being the one who “killed” all of the opposing general’s men. The last survivors were always those soldiers who lay on the stomachs pointing their rifles. You had to flip them over to kill them.
Also, among the items for sale for children at Mr. Pete’s was a Monopoly game that went for five dollars, which was a fortune back then when you could hop, skip, and jump a couple of blocks and cop a fountain Coke from Guerrins for a nickel. Anyway, my Aunt Virginia, who was only six years older than I, coveted that Monopoly game, and it was a monumental moment in my young life when she finally scraped enough money to purchase it.
In her role as banker, Virginia was very meticulous when we played the game, counting aloud as she distributed funds or doled out houses and hotels. I was more accustomed to games like Candy Land and Kentucky Derby that featured concrete starts and finishes. Drawing cards or thumping a color-coded spinner determined your moves in time-restricted outcomes better suited to a four-year-old’s attention span. Often, Virginia had to bribe me to play.
I have no idea what happened to Mr. Pete or his store. I did, however, years later work in that building when it housed Carolina Home Furnishers, which was run by Weeza Waring, an absolutely wonderful and undemanding boss who regaled me with old yarns as we sat next to one another in recliners watching Perry Mason reruns.
That’s what we mostly did, watch TV, the old reruns giving way to soap operas as the day matured. Customers were few and far between. My duties consisted of fetching the mail in the morning (and sometimes a bottle for Weeza from the liquor store in the afternoon), and sweeping and dusting. On Saturdays, if we had made a sale that week, the owner’s son Kirk Singletary and I would deliver furniture, or one occasion, repossess an item that the purchaser could not afford.
A few months ago, my wife Caroline and I travelled to Summerville so I could refresh my visual memory of these places for this self-indulgent project of chronicling what it was like growing up in a small Southern town during the Civil Rights era. Of course, we went to see the building, but it was the height of the pandemic, and the businesses there were closed. We didn’t get a chance to check out the interior of what now is now “Katie Mae’s Flea Market.” I wanted to look up out of the two small rectangular windows on the South Cedar Street side of the building.
I remember almost a half century ago, in the late morning of my life, dying for the workday to end, peering through those tiny rectangular windows at puffy white clouds drifting past.
Moments “that time allows in all his tuneful turning so few” as we wish our lives away.