Another of the recollections of my hometown of Chipley, Florida.
In the latter part of 1940 we moved from the house on Fifth Street up to a small house in the edge of the cemetery, a little ways northwest of the town. My stepfather Holley had obtained the job of city caretaker, and the house went with the job. As caretaker, he would be responsible for the maintenance of all lawns and landscaped areas on city-owned property, which included all streets, the cemetery, and the city park. We were living there when World War II began.
While we lived there, during 1941 and early 1942, Holly would often go downtown to the Wells Brothers' store on Saturday night, and would usually take me with him. The official name of this store was "T. L. WELLS & BRO.". It was owned by the brothers Lee and Les Wells. Lee was slightly larger than Les. He served several terms as the mayor of Chipley, the office being temporarily held by another only when Lee declined that particular term.
In the front part of the store were sold "dry goods", as clothing merchandise was called in those days. The Wells Brothers didn't care anything about fashion; they sold clothes for working people at prices working people could afford. They did, however, carry a good line of suits for the older, well-to-do gentlemen.
When a customer turned in at the door of their store the Wells Brothers didn't wait for him to come on in. They met him at the door and escorted him in. They knew everyone in town, including all the colored folk, and their children, and who had married whom and whether they were expecting yet.
Lee was the more outgoing, and generally handled the escorting. Les usually stayed in the background to begin with, making conversation with some customer while keeping a general eye out.
Lee would commence polite conversation with the customer as he escorted him back through the store, but would shortly say something like,
"Jason, what can we fix you up with today?"
Jason would mumble something to the effect that he was thinking about a new suit, on account of the one he had was about worn out, and Lee would say "Well, let's see, Jason, you take about a 40 Regular, if I remember," and proceed to remove the pants from a suit that he knew would not fit.
Shaking them so that the legs would drop, he would hold them up to the light, then drop them down for comparison against the pants Jason was wearing, presently observing, "Huh uh, no, these are a little short. I think we better try these." Then he would select another suit and go through the same routine. "Yep, I think this is about what we're looking for - step in there and slip these on, Jason, and let's see how they look." When Jason returned, Lee would stand back and inspect, pull the pants up a little, and tighten the waste with his thumbs and forefinger - "Stand up straight, Jason, we want to be sure these fit right - Les, come over here and see what you think; we want Jason to look good."
Les would come over, make a critical inspection from the front, then step around to the side - "Uh huh" - yank them up a little, then reach down and jerk the legs down a little, and step back, nodding approvingly. "Lee, I think these are going to be just fine - Jason lends himself to a good suit, you know. Yessir, looks mighty good."
Then Lee, "All right, we'll put these down," and he would write something on the little order pad. Then they would repeat the act with the coat, and Lee would write that down.
"Jason, you'll be needing a shirt or two with that - you always wear white shirts, don't you, with the button-down collar?"
"Yes sir. Mr. Wells, I don't know how you remember all that."
"We always remember our preferred customers, Jason. Now, let's see -- ", bending down now to look at Jason's shoes, "Eight and a half double E, I think - you wear black don't you Jason?
"And about three pair of dress socks - I'm going to throw them in free - you being one of our preferred customers - now, let's see .... that comes to about twenty-five dollars and-- well, let's knock off the cents.
"How did you want to handle that, Jason? You don't have to take care of it all at one time you know. No sir, you've been doing business with us a long time. Your credit is always good here.
"Want to put down five dollars? O.K. - you sure you can spare that right now? All right, fine. Les, how about wrapping all this up for Jason - use that good wrapping paper we got in last week.
"Jason, it's good to see you again. You know we always appreciate your business."
"Otis (that would be Otis Hinson, clerk and Man Friday), let that go for a minute, and take Jason around to his house. It's close on to dinnertime - no need for him to have to walk home."
Which is why Jason's business always went to "T. L. WELLS & BRO."