In a family business, everyone in the family has a job. As a junior storekeeper, my first job every morning was to sweep the front porch of the store. Sweeping is a great teacher, requiring focus, patience, and attention to detail. I also labeled goods with price tags and stocked shelves. Handling the merchandise was the best way to develop intimate knowledge of every product we carried.
I filled paper sacks with whole grains, hauled five-gallon buckets of dill pickles from the storage cooler, and stocked the big cracker barrel with Common Crackers. My brothers and I were allowed to sample as many crackers as we liked. However, we were forbidden to eat candy. Still, we were expected to fill dozens of candy jars every morning…without eating any of the candy. This was a daily exercise in discipline that demanded great restraint. I stacked hundreds of chocolate cream drops and sliced piles of fudge…and admittedly there may have been some sampling. The storekeeper manager in those days was a wonderful lady named Maude who kept us on task and kept vigilant watch over our candy-related activity. Once, Maude discovered a hole in a big bag of jellybeans and set mouse traps in the candy area. Little did she know: I was the mouse!
Once I mastered the basics of storekeeping, I was allowed to slice the giant 40-pound wheel of Vermont cheddar cheese. This involved a huge sharp knife that required both hands and a good deal of finesse. Customers would ask for a quarter pound, or perhaps a pound of cheese. A skilled clerk could almost cut the right amount on the first try. Our father could cut exactly the right amount on every try, which seemed like a magic trick. Then he would wrap the cheese in waxed paper, wind it with string from a big spool above the cheese counter, and tie it with a Storekeeper’s Knot. To finish he would snap the string with his fingers in one fluid motion—another magic trick. Like any art, storekeeping is a learned practice that’s never mastered. Today it’s still a privilege for my family and me to serve our customers. We hope the next generation of Ortons will become storekeepers too!