There comes a time when a teenager outgrows a babysitter’s income. In my day, that meant fifty cents an hour. And that left no Christmas fund to surprise my parents, four sisters, and a handful of friends with presents.

To plan ahead with handcrafted gifts never crossed my mind. Most likely because I wasn’t blessed with my mother’s steady hands and patience to stitch a straight line or embroider a keepsake.

Thankfully, Dad came to my rescue. “I’ll talk to Mr. Clar at Day Drug and see if he needs some Christmas help,” he said.

The side entrance to Day Drug was a few feet away from the main entrance to Dad’s barbershop on the corner of Eleven Mile and Hoover Roads.

I liked the idea of working for Mr. Clar because Kathy, a girlfriend from school, worked in the elevated pharmacy and enjoyed her job. I’d seen her above the counter of aspirins and cough syrup with the two pharmacists. Wouldn’t it be fun to learn what Kathy knew? Her mother drove them to the drug store and worked the cash register.

Mr. Clar was a pleasant man with a distinctive voice. You heard him before you saw him. He repeated what he said at least twice, particularly everyone’s last name, which meant he said “O’Brien” twice instead of “Iris” when he hired me.

To my disappointment, Mr. Clar assigned me to the aisles. “Keep the shelves dusted, tidied, and condensed, O’Brien. Dusted and condensed. Condense, O’Brien,” he said. “Condense.”

By my mother’s and granny’s example, I’d learned to organize filled canning jars in their fruit cellars and canned good in cupboards. Thus, I settled well into the tedium of neatly packing the maximum products from children’s toys to hair dyes to laxatives on Day Drug’s shelves.

I learned the whereabouts of merchandise which allowed me to assist customers in their purchases. Costly fragrances, however, required the assistance of the store’s beautifully coiffured and clothed employee. She stood for hours behind her shiny glass counter informing customers about cosmetics and perfumes, suggesting the ideal brand for each woman.

As Christmas Day approached, I watched the line for the cashier grow longer as I dusted and condensed. One day, Kathy’s mother couldn’t bag the purchases fast enough.

“O’Brien!” Mr. Clar barked to me at the end of the aisle.

“Yes!” I replied with my dust rag in hand.

“Go bag at the register until we close, O’Brien. Until we close.”

“Yes sir!”

Nonstop, I bagged what Kathy’s mother rang up on the cash register, including the last customer in line when Mr. Clar locked the door.

“Tomorrow, O’Brien, bag all day,” he said. “All day, O’Brien.”

Dear Reader, this intro to retail sales gifted me with kindness and forbearance for the cashier who serves me. For my friend Kathy was one of five children her mother birthed, loved, and raised.

And that Christmas Eve, as I did, I hope she took home gifts from Day Rexall Drug Co. to her growing family.

Contact Iris at