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BY ED ALLARD


Reprinted from The Weirs Times Mount Washington Special Edition
Around the Cracker Barrel - The Selected Works of Ed Allard

QUITE often, when strolling down the new alleyway past the empty windows of the closed 0"Shea's store, I peek in at the empty spaces and wonder if the ghosts of times past roam the lonely aisles or sit on the stairs and swap tales of the old days.

The story of O'Shea's is woven firmly into the fabric of Laconia's history and hundreds of old customers mourned its passing.

The end of the log drive marked the beginning of the spring spree for lumberjacks who came roaring out of the north country to board the train heading for Laconia. With the lonely hard days in the woods behind them and a pocket bulging with back pay, they scrambled aboard and whooped it up as the coaches rattled over the rails. Disembarking, many of them headed for O'Shea's to leave a few dollars with Dennis O'Shea and Aunt Kit before heading for the flesh pots and saloons on Mill Street. A descendent of one of the old-time bartenders once told me that his ancestor made a fortune by sticking his thumb in the measuring cup as he drew whiskey from the barrel. They say that he had the cleanest thumb in town.

A few days later, the celebrants would show up at O'Shea's again, haggard with hangovers, sporting bruised knuckles and bloodshot eyes, to claim their money and spend it on clothing needed for the long
months ahead.

The store had a reputation as a good place to work. There was a rumor that once you went to work there you were all set for as long as you wished to stay. It may have been true; I went to work there as a temporary employee, hired only for the Christmas season, and was there for twenty two years. I must admit; I still miss the old place.

There was always an undercurrent of mischievousness flowing quietly under the circumspect exterior. One day one of the employees showed up with a gadget he had picked up in a joke shop. Designed to be attached to the underside of a toilet seat, it burst into fiendish cackles of laughter when sat upon. While others played lookout, the prankster entered the ladies room and fastened it in place.

It so happened that during this period of time there had been a number of false bomb scares in town, leaving everyone a little jittery.

As we went about our duties one of the group kept an eye on the rest room corridor and when one of the salesladies was seen heading for it we were alerted. Pretending to be busy, we watched and waited. Suddenly the restroom door burst open and a terrified saleslady ran into the hallway screeching, "A bomb! There's a bomb under the seat!"

We headed her off before she got on to the main floor to panic the customers. It took us about five minutes of fervent explaining to convince her that the object that she had spotted was not about to blow us all into kingdom come. It took somewhat longer to get back into her good graces.

The pneumatic cash system was always good for a prank, especially in the old store where the office was in an open balcony. A feather from a feather duster could be carefully placed in the carrier so that when opened it would spring out at a startled cashier. The screech sometimes made customers forget what they were shopping for. It was also possible to create the same result by filling the canister with cigarette smoke. Deceased insects and spiders also were known to take the ride.

I may have told it before. If I did, here it is again. I still guffaw whenever I remember it. Duke, manager of the shoe department, was a master practical joker and he had just hired a young fellow to work with him. The new clerk was a shy, bashful lad, eager to make good.

The newcomer was working in the storeroom when a little old lady in her eighties came in and informed Duke that she was looking for a pair of sensible shoes. Duke showed her to a seat and informed her that his assistant would help her. He also told her that the boy was very deaf but that he needed the job to help his widowed mother. "We want to keep him. Just speak real loud and everything will be all right."

He then ducked into the storeroom and said to the boy, "There's an elderly lady out there looking for shoes and I'm going to let you wait on her.

She's a nice lady and a good customer. She's very deaf but too proud to wear a hearing aid but as long as you holler everything will be fine."

The clerk approached her timidly and shouted, "Can I help you?"

"I want a pair of soft leather shoes!" she shouted back.

Customers turned to see what was going on as the two yelled back and forth for several minutes.

Finally, in exasperation, the old lady waggled her finger in his face and yelled, "You don't have to holler at me! I ain't deef!"

"Neither am I!" shouted the clerk, "but the boss told me you are!"

"And he told me you are," replied the elderly customer.

As the light dawned, both of them headed for the storeroom to confront Duke. They were too late. Duke had departed for what was to be a long but happy lunch hour.

 


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