Mr and Mrs Kopinski were an elderly couple who owned a little store on Falmouth and Fifth. It sold just about everything and me and my friends loved going there on a Saturday morning. The shop was a veritable cornucopia; though I didn’t know long words like that then.
We would stand in front of the line of big candy jars, half a dozen of us from the same class in school, trying to choose between gummy bears, liquorice laces, sherbet dabs, jaw breaker taffy, and lots more. Mr Kopinski was kind and patient: he seemed to understand our dilemma. He had a round, plump, currant bun face, which would crease into such a big smile that his twinkley eyes almost disappeared. When we finally made our minds up, he placed our purchases into small paper bags and took our nickels and dimes, warm from having been clutched for so long.
This was only the start of our Saturday treat. There were dozens of toys for us to inspect and try out, even though we had no money to buy them. Mr Kopinski surely knew that, but it did not deter him from allowing us to run model planes, cars and other miniature vehicles across the counter and around the floor. We would play marbles and skittles and risk wearing out the mechanism on clockwork clowns and animals. It was said that Mr and Mrs Kopinski had no children of their own, which was maybe why they were happy to see youngsters enjoying themselves in their store.
Being a girl, I was expected to like “girls’ toys”, but found them boring. The clammy plastic skin on dolls felt horrible, and why should I play with replica household appliances like stoves and wash tubs? My mom hated cooking and housework, so why was it supposed to be fun for little girls to pretend they were doing it? It was obvious that boys had much more fun with their toys, so I preferred playing with them.
We liked trying to jump cars over larger vehicles, leading to numerous collisions and triumphant yells. Sometimes I heard Mrs Kopinski’s wooden shoes clacking across the floor as she came to check on the commotion. Seeing how much we were enjoying ourselves, she would smile indulgently and return to her provisions counter.
I remember one day at the store in particular. Tired of trying to wreck things, I wandered over to see if Mrs Kopinski needed any help. Mrs K, wisps of white hair escaping as usual from her little paper cap, was in the middle of getting an order together for delivery. Knowing she did not like being interrupted when she was weighing things out, I sat on a sack of flour to wait until she was free.
I was always interested to look at the things which the shop had for sale, even though some of them lining the walls had a coating of dust and so presumably were not popular items. This applied to a bottle of California Poppy scent, which I hoped would still be there when I had saved enough to buy it for Mom’s birthday. But the foodstuffs did not stay around so long. There were always boxes of cookies and Hershey bars, tins of beans, vegetables and pet food. Sometimes, towards Christmas time, there would be big fruit cakes, which Mom said you could put the frosting on yourself, so folk would think the cake was home made. I had never tasted most of the cheeses on the counter and, from the smell of some of them, I doubted I ever would. The same went for the collection of evil-looking, dark-coloured sausage.
On the wall there was a large red lobster. Although I knew it wasn’t real, its tiny black eyes and drooping whiskers seemed to give it a sad expression.
I had never tasted lobster. I wondered if I had enough quarters left to take one home for Mom, as a surprise for supper. As soon as Mrs Kopinski had finished the order, I asked her excitedly where she kept the lobsters, presuming there was a tank in the back of the store. To my surprise, Mrs K laughed.
“Bless you child, lobsters is what rich folk eat, or those that live by the ocean.” She carried on chuckling, as though I had made a huge joke, but patted me on the head when she saw my red face. I hated it when grown-ups laughed at me for something I couldn’t be expected to know. Before I had a chance to offer to help behind the counter, the doorbell dinged.
I recognised the portly gentleman who entered as the local bank manager. I had seen him when I was in the bank once with Mom. Disappointed that we had not left with a big bag of dollar bills I wondered why Mom had not asked the manager for some. She said it didn’t work like that, unless you robbed a bank. Now there was a thought. Perhaps when I grew up, instead of being a housewife I would be a bank robber. It had to be more exciting than cleaning and listening to your family complaining about what you had cooked for dinner.
Mrs Kopinski beamed delightedly when I asked if I could help her. I went to fetch the tobacco and boot polish that Mr Levy, the bank manager, wanted, and by the time I returned Mrs K was neatly wrapping his other purchases. As usual, she enquired about her customer’s health and about his family. Perhaps it was because Mr Levy went on so long about his bad back that Mrs K. appeared less interested than she usually did. When he had left the store, she gave a big sigh and passed a hand across her eyes.
“Oh Susan, I’m so sorry”, she said weakly. “I’m a little bit tired. I think I’ll lie down for a few minutes. Would you look after the counter for me, dear?” I could hardly believe that I had been entrusted with this important task on my own and waited eagerly for the next customer to come through the door.
As it turned out, I didn’t do any serving because the store had to be closed early. Mr Kopinski had come hurrying out to tell me and the boys that his wife was not at all well and he had telephoned for an ambulance. We children were shocked into silence and began to leave the store.
I was just going to pick up my coat and purse when the door bell jangled and someone called “Shop!” A man and a lady in uniform entered with a stretcher. The boys and I waited outside and watched as Mr Kopinski followed his wife, who was on the stretcher, into the ambulance. When it had driven away the boys walked off, but I stood on the sidewalk and cried. Supposing Mrs K died. She was such a lovely, kind lady. (I had completely forgiven her for laughing at me.) Whatever would Mr Kopinski do without her? After a little snivel I felt a bit better and hurried home to tell Mom. Sometimes I was glad I was a girl and did not have to pretend I didn’t have any feelings.
It was such a relief when we heard that Mrs Kopinski was not suffering from anything serious and had returned home that evening. Next morning I picked some flowers from our garden and took them, along with a little pot of honey which Mom had got me from the hive, to cheer up Mrs K. I left them on the step in front of the store, as it was still closed and I did not want to disturb the Kopinskis.
When I had told Mom how worried I was about Mrs K, she said the people in the hospital would look after her very well. That got me thinking how wonderful it must be to help sick people feel better. After all, bank robbers spent a lot of time in prison if they got caught, and nobody liked them, but nurses were “angels in uniform”. That’s what Uncle Harry had said when we visited him in hospital, and I had seen how many boxes of chocolates the nurses were given. Then I realised that the most important people in the hospital were the doctors. It must be amazing to actually save people’s lives.
Suddenly my mind was made up: I would be a doctor. And if Mom said girls couldn’t be doctors, I would walk over to Granddaddy’s and see what he said!
Those memories are from nearly thirty years ago. The Kopinskis and their store are long gone but I still have fond memories of my visits there. As I sit at my desk enjoying a much-needed break, my pager goes. Sighing, I leave my coffee and go to see what the next patient needs. Sometimes I think life would have been easier if I had been a stay at home housewife, or a shop assistant; but, on a good day, not nearly so rewarding.
THE FAMILY KUMAR
The year was 1956 and I sat in my Grandfather’s lounge
In his comfy chair beside his rotating wooden Bookcase
With each revolution different books appeared
Telling the stories of future or past.
One in particular caught my eye
And I decided to pull it free as it circled by
The title ‘The Family Kumar’ seemed fascinating
I pushed the bookcase further
And grabbed this book as it passed.
Around its leather binding, my choice still had a paper sleeve
Slightly ragged around the edge, but clearly illustrating the Indian Sub-continent
Painted with vivid pictures of workers on their land,
And in the background stood a busy village;
Bullocks pulled two wheeled carts along dusty tracks loaded with wood for fires
And young women queued to pump up water,
Clearly it all depicted that a meal was about to be prepared.
And that is just where the story began, as I started the Introduction.
I opened the volume and began my read.
Set in India at the time of the British Raj.
At first it seemed a quite happy tale.
The family was comfortable with food, water and a bungalow.
And they all worked together at different jobs on their four acres of fertile land.
They really had a comfortable life, except for Adam.
He was the eldest son and politically aware, unlike his four younger brothers
He objected to the British presence, even though his father disagreed.
‘They have brought us food, water, medicines and banished fraud,
And, now we all have a fair chance to progress’.
‘We can join their Army, their Civil Service and they give us education’.
I had been very young , but I still recalled the stories from 1947
Indian independence from Britain,
and resulting murderous conflicts with neighbouring Pakistan.
As I read further it was clear that Adam had been involved in uprisings
He was on the run from the British officials, and yet his love was Kate.
Kate was a Consular Secretary, a member of the ‘other side’.
Life was very confusing for 24 year old Adam, but he loved the auburn hair of his young lady.
As he grew older the pull of the politics weakened, and yet his friends despised this.
How could he love an English maiden, yet hate her nation.
He almost agreed, but his love was stronger.
Over the following weeks I hardly put the book down.
As time passed I felt closer to the members of the Kumar family.
How would their lives evolve in this changing World?
The book finished adruptly, with many questions still unanswered
Did Adam and Kate get together?
I had to know.
The last page of the book advertised a sequel ‘,The life of the Kumars’
I had to get that book to find out what happened!
But it was not to be found In my Grandfather’s rotating bookcase.
If this story is of interest, perhaps you may wish to get hold of the (currently out of print) book:
‘The Asian Community, Medicines and Traditions’
By Dr M A HEALY and Dr M ASLAM Silver Link (1990)
I remember the seaside trips on train
I wish I could capture that feeling again
I played on the sand and paddled in the sea
I rode on the donkeys and laughed with glee
I drank cool fizzy pop and had chips for a snack
On the train home I slept ail the way back
I remember those endless long sunny days
All my friends tussled in a general melee
We all played soldiers inside a nearby wood
Some played the bad guys the others played the good
We made wooden rifles all painted in black
All of these memories are now flooding back
I remember the bike rides in the clean country air
Mile after mile our destination anywhere
Around every corner was a place we could play
Cycling along till the end of the day
Then the weary ride home if s time for returning
For those short years of childhood I find myself yearning
I remember camping at night, near a bridge and a ford
Looking up to a dark starry night our fitting reward
We invented a villain filled with evil intent
Ours was the axeman who crept into your tent
Eating cold beans straight from the can
Soon we would pass from childhood to man
Day breaker lost in life, soul breaker lost in love,
Homeless, faceless, the awoken dreamer, timeless,
A silhouetted figure, broke on shore, sea drawn,
Tilts on the unfathomable mooring morn,
Cuts ebb low, with glinting glass bottled trapped tide,
That brought in the froth of light,
And hushed pebbles washed up, another lost night,
Now kipper eyed, watches, as postcard promises,
The naked flats and ribbed roads revealed, to be
Scoured by scavenger, bored by curlew,
And re-cast or not, the worms of limpet plays,
To urchin out endless ‘in loving memory’ bench days,
With hollowed secrets in deepest pools of fears, filled
By the salty dried trickle of transient years,
The non- participant observer,
Visible only as sun dial noon time,
Studies deck chair daily families flapping,
Gaggle gathered in line,
Dominion claims on the tide turning,
Tide watching, wave lapping,
White legged, burnt back beach,
Where pioneer paddlers, shingle surf,
Across shimmer mirror sheets,
Of the fish bed sea,
Coloured in childhood twinkle blue haze,
Around ice creamed, sun creamed, sun kissed days,
And the light winds that blow kind,
Prints indelible on the formative mind,
The unwitting players in the golden round,
Seaboard tread, leave their shoreline seats,
Taking the babble, banter, chatter, and play,
Their do and don’ts, the when’s, the may be,
And how soon is soon, away,
After the day tripper, caravanner, camper, and short stay,
Leave and wave the sea,
Late couples prim and prom, arm in walking stick arm,
Evening casual matching yarn, in twilight hues,
Set of retired rusty sea rail capstan tan shoes,
No vacant viewing, breakfast course set, harbour bound,
Where tired mud, and pondering pools of rainbow oil,
Sigh under weed green chains and nets,
And empty, once full,
Fish boxes from ports no one recollects,
As bare beach beckons, open mouthed,
Laughing gull reclaiming,
Metal hopeful, hapless, map less treasure land,
Is scanning foot print scenes, where on-shore breezes,
The prosecuting victor in, cock court, shuttle sand eases,
And fielding final over, long shadowed cricket,
Played out with pylon stumps,
Punctuated by racing ball races, to neep tide boundaries,
Finding the love struck single, longingly staring far away,
To horizon hugging pillow clouds, that touch,
The turtle blue backed, never to be eider down sea,
Holding benign dreams in captured coupled moments,
And with the dripping sun’s early night shades,
Silhouette slipping quietly away,
Whispers below the unrequited waves,
And eventide falls again heavy with sleep.
I MUST GO DOWN TO THE RIVER AGAIN
by Pete Brammer
I must go down to the river again,
Where I played when just a child,
Paddling and netting minnows,
Picking flowers, varied, and wild.
Admiring the fluttering butterflies,
With fragile wings so pretty,
See mallards bobbing up and down,
Remembering the poem, ‘Ducks Dittie’.
Along the banks we’d build our dens,
Where we’d play and share a joke,
And unbeknown to parents,
We’d enjoy a crafty smoke.
I too have brought up children,
Who may have done the same,
But today, I’m fighting cancer,
And must go down to the river again.
built on a famous first line