Tag Archives: Clarkesville

A Lady Named Vertilee

I was reminded of Vertilee Brewer recently when one of her most faithful employees attended my sister’s 50th wedding anniversary party. I hadn’t seen Phyllis in almost sixty years but the reconnection was pure fun. She was one of my heroines back then, being just a little older than I and so knowledgeable and efficient. In my mind, she reigned as Queen over all the soda jerks at Brewer’s of whom I was one. She put up with my immaturity, yet treated me as an equal. I realized Mrs. Brewer trusted her implicitly and that was impressive. But, more than that, she was a good friend and one who had an infectious sense of humor.

But this article is about Mrs. Vertilee Brewer.

I knew her first as one of my mother’s dearest friends. On rare occasions she came to our house for a visit and Mamma was always so glad to see her. Dad had enjoyed her husband, too, until Mr. Brewer died, leaving a lively drugstore business to “Miss Vertilee.” After my Dad died they had even more in common. Mamma admired her friend for being such a successful business woman. I think Miss Vertilee admired my mother just as much for being the mother of ten.

She was a very short little lady with a piquant face and a gentle smile. She reminded me of a mother wren even though she had no children. I didn’t know until years later that she had tried to adopt one of my older sisters. I think she really wanted a child and thought my parents might have more children than they needed. Apparently, there were no hard feelings on either side over her failed attempt. Mrs. Brewer simply continued to be involved with several of us and I am one of the ones who benefitted.

When my brother Orman was preparing to go to the Philippines as a missionary he and his family lived for an interim period in the big Brewer house near the Clarkesville cemetery. Mrs. Brewer had moved over on Main Street to a smaller house. Being sixteen at the time, I was chosen as babysitter for Orman’s four kids. The oldest was ten and the youngest eighteen months, truly a challenge when Orman and Margaret were out of town for two weeks. Mamma sent my brother Stan to help me when he got off work at night. And Mrs. Brewer came at least once every day, just to see about us.

I didn’t think at the time about why she came. I was just glad she did. Her little face decorated with freckles was a welcome sight at the back door. She helped me sort the small problems (like little Joe pulling the sugar bowl over into his hair) from the big ones (like the washing machine flooding the laundry room). Much later I realized she was aware that Mamma couldn’t come into town to see about me and my flock so she would do it herself.

But I was to get to know Mrs. Brewer on a much deeper level after she gave me a job working at the soda fountain at Brewer Drug Company.

Mrs. Brewer was small in stature but she was a quiet force all the same, and when she spoke everyone paid close attention. Dr. Hardin ran the pharmacy but Mrs. Brewer ran everything else. Her office was an open one on a second half-story. She could look down from her loft and see everything that was happening in the store, from the bustling soda fountain to the magazine rack where often a Trailways bus client waited, to the long counters and handsome high cases full of merchandise, to the café tables and the television area.

It was 9:00 of a morning when Mrs. Brewer arrived at work. She came in the front door walking briskly, her valise in hand. With a smile for each she moved through the pharmacy and up to her office where she went right to work on her books. She seldom spoke from upstairs. But she would come down if she saw the need.

When she came downstairs, most often she had a particular mission in mind. A few times when I was late arriving, I became her mission. I don’t know who told her I’d been past 7:30 getting to work, but she found out. My ride to work was with my brother Charlie in his big loud logging truck and usually I was early, sometimes so early I had to wait outside for the store to open. But there were those tense times when I was late. Once, when I tried to explain to my boss that I had no control over my time of arrival, she stopped me in mid-sentence. “There is no excuse for being late,” she said and headed back upstairs.

Another lesson I learned one day during court week. The drugstore was directly across the street from the stately old red brick Habersham County courthouse. When court was in session we were flooded with coffee drinkers at break time and with luncheon clients at midday. It was quite hectic keeping up with the court crowd of attorneys in their somber suits and the many folks “come to town” over some legal matter or just to see what was going on. Particularly daunting to me were the gentlemen who would ask for “the usual.” How was I supposed to remember all the “usuals”?

So–down came Mrs. Brewer from her loft to tell me in no uncertain terms that I needed to speed up and I would have to do better remembering every person’s preference. That’s what I was there for, she said.

I worked harder.

I tried to be friendlier to the clients, get to know them better. That brought on another reprimand. Mrs. Brewer came down one day after a certain Mr. Trotter left the store. “Brenda,” she said, “don’t be fooled by gray hair and wrinkles. You don’t need to be flirting with old gentlemen. They’re more dangerous than the young ones.” I was appalled. My friendliness had been perceived as flirtation? My goodness! This thing called Life was more complicated than I’d realized.

I worked at the drugstore a couple of years between high school and college. I have fond memories of working with Phyllis and others–of trying to write tickets using the great thick Trailways bus schedule book, of learning how not to blush when ladies asked for private female supplies, of digging deep in the five gallon ice cream containers and making scoops stick firmly on the cones, and of taking inventory in January of thousands of little bottles and things.

It was a very big day when Mrs. Brewer gave me a raise so my weekly check was $20 instead of $15. And I enjoyed wearing my smart white uniforms. With my discount I was able to buy a set of luggage for going off to college and it seems to me I can hear the cheers of other employees the day my luggage arrived. Leaving the drugstore was like leaving a second family and for several years I enjoyed dropping in to see how everyone was doing–especially Mrs. Brewer.

She came to my small home wedding. After marrying a South Georgia boy and then having a baby, I had fewer and fewer chances to see Mrs. Brewer. Then Mamma let me know that her friend Vertilee was very, very sick. My husband and I went to see her. She had become even smaller. But her smile even in her pale face was warm and welcoming. We talked a few minutes about old times. Before we left she said something like, “Be good to each other.” It wasn’t long after that when Mamma told me Vertilee had died.

When my husband and I visited the restaurant called Taylor’s Trolley which at one time was located where the drugstore had been, I was glad to see the wonderful old wood cases still there. But when I looked up, there was no little Mrs. Brewer peering down from her perch.

 

 

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Inventory

While hunting for the electrical aisle at Home Depot (where my husband Charles and my grandson Charles were making serious decisions and waiting on me to bring a buggy), I caught a glimpse of a man down on his knees counting what looked like boxes of screws. Taking inventory maybe? No, they do that by computer now, don’t they? That’s why every single item you buy has to be scanned, sometimes even if they’re all just alike. But that’s not the way it was done in 1960.

I was working at Brewer Drug Company in Clarkesville, Georgia, as a soda jerk/clerk/general flunky. It was January, time for taking inventory. We didn’t have to count every pill, but we had to count every bottle, every tube, every syringe, glove and bandaid box, every everything. Cabinets and display cases on both side walls reached from the floor to counter top and on up and up. We’d been counting about a week, I think, the day I was elected to count tiny bottles on a top shelf by standing on a counter.

I wasn’t bothered by heights. After all, only a few years before that I’d spent most of my time in trees, the higher the better. I looked out over the store intrigued by my bird’s eye view. Then I blinked my eyes and grabbed hold of the cabinet door to steady myself. The magazine display, tables and chairs, candy rack and even the lovely big mirror that reflected it all were tumbling together and a very odd feeling stirred in my stomach.

My first thought was of the horror and embarrassment if I were to fall. My next thought was to ignore the feeling and it would go away. I was very proud of my job (a job I’d earned simply because my mother was very good friends with the store’s owner, Mrs. Vertilee Brewer), and I was intent on doing everything right.

I reached high and began counting rows and rows of bottles.

Suddenly I felt myself being watched. I looked up at the open mezzanine but Mrs. Brewer wasn’t looking down on us as she sometimes did. Her little head was bent over the accounting books. Then I looked down. Not far away leaning on a glass-topped case stood Dr. Hardin, head pharmacist. He was obviously studying me. A flush heated my face. Was I not counting fast enough? Had I not returned bottles to the right places? And how could he see from way down there?

Dr. Hardin spoke more sharply than I’d ever heard him do before. It’s a wonder I didn’t fall right then and there. “Girl, you have mumps. I have no idea why you even came to work this morning. Get down from there this instant and go home. I’ll call you a taxi from the back. I’ve never had mumps and I don’t intend to have it now.” He was already dis-appearing into his pharmacists’ haven while I considered how to get down with any grace at all.

Everyone stood back as I grabbed my coat and slunk out to get in the taxi.

It was indeed mumps, an illness endured also by my younger sister and my older brother as my poor mother waited on all three of us. My neck swelled to alarming proportions. Eating was an awful chore. Even as sick as I was, though, I was worrying about whether or not I’d lost my job. Mamma knew I was really dreading bad news. She sat on the side of the bed as I opened a card from Mrs. Brewer. She and I both smiled when we saw it was a Get Well card. Mrs. Brewer had penned below the card’s message, “Come back to work when you’re all well. By the way, the inventory is finished.”

I really didn’t mind not counting any more bottles that year!

Now it’s the beginning of 2017 and, as I said, heartless computers are doing the counting day by day, sale by sale.  But there are personal inventories we need to take. For instance, I ask myself, have I grown in any way this year except my waistline? Have I been kinder or smarter or quicker at anything? Have I listened to God more intently and obeyed what I heard him say with more alacrity? Have I counted my blessings lately? Now there’s an inventory in which to revel.

I’m jotting down a few of my blessings:

What a blessing my family is to me–for instance, my husband with whom I delight in sharing a golden sunset, a newborn goat kid, and a laugh from the comics.

The gorgeous, intricately created camellia blossoms blooming in the “bleak midwinter” take my breath away.

Nippy cold weather and a crackly fire to warm by are some favorites.

Christmas cards from friends far and near are so sweet and treasured.

Having someone for whom to make a big pot of stew is a luxury.

Quilting parties, little girl tea parties, sudden after-school snack parties in my kitchen, gatherings with dear, sweet friends whom we trust with our humor and even our secrets–these are precious.

I’m fond of blank paper ready to be used, playing Words With Friends with my grandson (13) and being beaten, the feeling of completion after knitting a hat or scarf or setting jars of jelly on the shelf, the joy of a new book, the sound of children’s laughter, and finding some object that’s been lost a long time or just all day.

The Lord’s compassion as we travel a rough road is always a blessing too.

As I look back over what I listed, I’m struck by the number of blessings I mentioned that are not tangible. Aren’t those the best?

Time for you to start your list.

Have fun!

 

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