Artie's Love of legal Tender

IN my youth, Artie Mitchell kept the newspaper store in mydown-Maine town, and it was a profitable property. We were a little over a hundred miles from Boston, and in those days we looked to Boston for our news.

The Globe, Herald, and Post of "The Hub" covered us like the dew, and outsold all our Maine papers combined. Of these, the Post was the big one. All three got their first morning editions onto the 2 a.m. "paper train," and Artie would have the bundles unpacked and the piles arranged soon after 8:00.

Upstate, say in Fort Kent, the morning papers from Boston arrived just before suppertime, but in Fort Kent that's very good. Artie did keep other items in stock, but the flurry over the morning papers was his cash flow, and he didn't need more than that to flourish.

Every Fourth of July, he would buy in the town's fireworks for which he had a monopoly because no other storekeeper wanted to run the risk or cared to pay for a license - which was issued by the fire chief.

Our fire chief, Wildcat Smith, so-called, always gave Artie his license and then went to the post office to tack up his annual warning: NOTICE - Anybody planning to start a July 4th fire is required to give 20 minutes notice to the Volunteer Department.

On July 3, pretty much all afternoon long, daddies could be seen walking home from Artie's with their youngsters in hand, ready for the family's evening display - the sky rocket tails sticking out of the brown paper bags. Everybody worried all during the holiday that Artie would blow up.

The firemen, in those days of summer-dry wooden shingles, stood vigil until the fireworks were played out, and I can remember how Ruel Hanscom always stood in front of Artie's with two pails of ready water by his feet. The local joke was that after the danger had passed, Ruel would carry the two pails of water back to the hosehouse, rather than tip them empty and spare the effort.

Artie also kept the town's best case of penny candy, and he never showed impatience if we young'ns spent an interminable time deciding over the two-fors or the one-cent jawbreakers. We'd dally until we had just time to get to school before the bell, and Artie would favor us.

And at Valentine time Artie would have the alleged "comic" variety one sent anonymously to enemies. Somehow Artie was able to find these in the true semblance of each of our schoolteachers and wanting-to we didn't dast.

Artie was along in his book, a bit stooped and gray, and he used half-moon spectacles which seemingly did little for his eyes. He always held a coin close-to, and we learned later he didn't always see it.

He'd bought the glasses at Win Fogg's store - Win had an eye-glass counter where the customer fitted himself. Try until you have what you want, and there was a Bible on a string to help you. Pokey Houdet, one of our less-equipped townsmen, used to go in and read until he'd memorized the entire Bible, but his eyesight was perfect.

And it is necessary for story purposes to say now that in Artie's time gold coins were legal tender, and the small $2.50 goldpiece was sometimes mistaken for a cent.

And it happened that as Artie grew older he began putting nail kegs under his newspaper counter, and instead of ringing each sale on his register, he began swooping the coins into these nail kegs. The Post still sold for two cents, but the others had gone to three.

When Artie ceased to flourish and his estate offered his newsstand for sale, unbeknownst to all but Artie were nine nail kegs under the counter, all full of cents.

The business sold readily, and the new owner was not really jolly to find nine kegs of coins that must be tediously wrapped before the bank would accept them for deposit. It would take months.

But the tedium was sweetened somewhat. Artie with his Win Fogg eyeglasses had swept off enough $2.50 goldpieces to keep the count interesting.

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