When I was little Mom made most of her purchases at O’Neil’s Department store, right there on Main Street and directly across from Polsky’s, the other major department store. Shoes, socks, clothing, linens, furniture…if we needed it, Mom went to O’Neil’s. The clerk would stack the selections on the counter, write up a bill, ring it on the cash register, and then ask “Will that be cash or charge?” Sometimes Mom took cash from her billfold; sometimes she took out the little blue leatherette case that held her revolving charge card, a small piece of metal the size of a dog tag. The card went on an imprinter, the top of the written bill went over the card, the handle was pushed down and mother’s name and address imprinted on the top of the bill. Then the card and the bill went into a metal cylinder and were whisked away by a pneumatic tube, off to the credit office. The clerk bagged the purchases and chatted with mom, the cylinder whooshed back in the pneumatic tube, credit approved. Mom signed the bottom and home we went.
Fast forward twenty or so years; I was a young mother and the store was Higbee’s in Cleveland. Beth was just two, Shelly was imminently due and we were in the dry goods department. I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I took Beth’s hand and set off for the down escalator. Just as I had both feet and a very pregnant belly on the escalator, ready to get her onto the step too, Beth yelled “My purse, my purse!”, wrenched her hand away and ran into the crowd. Every mother’s nightmare. I rode down the slow, rackety wooden steps, swung around and got straight on the slow, rackety wooden up escalator. I found her in the middle of dry goods, looking around and realizing at last she was lost, but clutching the little purse she had set down. We set off again to the lower floor, where I made my final selection and laid it on the counter. Beth and the clerk chatted like old friends as my purchase was rung up. Beth flipped my blouse up to my chest and told the clerk “There’s a baby in here.” I pulled myself back together and took my purse off my shoulder as the clerk asked “Will that be cash or charge?”
“Charge, please,” said Beth, opening her purse and handing a red seat belt retractor up to the counter. The clerk gravely took it, completed and bagged the purchase and handed Beth back her charge card. “You take good care of that baby.”
Beth's charge card, the black issue