It was a slow day at the store. My dad; Wendell and Uncle Jimmy were gathered around the front counter playing poker. My father, David, was a tall man at six-foot-one, medium build, with skin that was moderately tanned from being out in the sun. He had a dark brown beard and mustache and hazel blue-green eyes that today were accentuated by his shirt. A western style plaid blue and purple long sleeve shirt with snaps, over dark indigo blue Levi’s, black sneakers, and a blue ball cap over his brown curly hair that said “Surplus and Salvage Sales, Inc.” This was my father’s standard wardrobe. He never preferred to wear shirts with buttons. He also likes to wear his ball caps, especially the ones with advertising on it for his business.
Wendell stood beside him. He was shorter than David, and his build was a slimmer with a light tan complexion that was somewhat concealed by his glasses. Wendell was in his seventies with greying hair, and working at my dad’s business was his second career in life, after working for the United States Postal service as a mail carrier. He was also a preacher and – surprisingly – had a bit of a mischievous side.
Uncle Jimmy stood across from them, medium height with a slim build, wearing grey-rimmed glasses that accentuated the grey hair that thinned on the top of his head. He wore a long sleeve red dress shirt with a pair of black slacks and dress shoes. The majority of my fathers Uncles and Aunts preferred to wear dressier clothing. Uncle Jimmy was actually my dad’s Uncle, but everyone just called him Uncle Jimmy, including Wendell. Uncle Jimmy was known for carrying liquor in a mouthwash bottle to disguise it and bringing it to work at the Store. Sometimes, Uncle Jimmy would take naps on the job, propping his feet up on the desk and going to sleep when they weren’t busy. Then, finding him sleeping, Wendell would often give Uncle Jimmy what he called “The Hot Foot.” Wendell would light a match and place it between the sole and heel of Uncle Jimmy’s shoe. Uncle Jimmy would awaken hastily and had some choice things to tell Wendell each and every time.
A stream of smoke blew towards them from my dad’s cigarette in the nearby ashtray. My dad dealt out five cards to Wendell, Uncle Jimmy and himself. They checked and raised in a round, playing with my dad’s poker set, full of red, white and blue chips. When my family played with poker chips, white represented one dollar, blue five dollars, and the red chip ten dollars. My dad had just bet five dollars, and it was down to Wendell and Jimmy to decide if they’d call or fold. They called in tandem and placed one blue chip each on the table. Since they were playing draw poker, each player could trade up to three cards during their turn.
With a concerned look on his face Wendell said, “I’d like to trade two cards please.” He discarded two of his cards, and my dad dealt him two new cards. Expressionless, Uncle Jimmy followed by requesting three cards.
“I’ll take one card,” said dad.
Wendell checked, and Uncle Jimmy raised, making Wendell yell out disconsolately with a flabbergasted look on his face, “I fold!” My dad raised again, and Uncle Jimmy called, placing an additional blue chip on the table.
Now the round of betting was complete, Uncle Jimmy laid down his hand: three nines, a king, and a jack. But when my dad laid down his hand, he had a full house, three queens, and two fives.
Uncle Jimmy cursed in disappointment. “Oh crap, I thought you were bluffing and had nothing!” My dad often did bluff well during poker games, even when he didn’t have a good hand his face would remain stoic. His opponents would fold, and he would win the pot of money.
“You won again! Are you counting cards David?” Wendell asked my dad with a smirk on his face.
“No of course not!” my dad said. “Hey, you’re lucky we’re playing with poker chips, or you’d owe me real money!” Outside the window a blue pickup truck was visible pulling into the parking lot and parking. “I see a customer pulling up in the parking lot, back to work,” said my dad.
“The Store,” that’s the name my family called my dad’s flooring business, Surplus and Salvage Sales, Inc. My dad sold carpet, vinyl, carpet pad, wood flooring and miscellaneous building supplies such as windows and doors. The store was in a run-down area of town called Millville. It was mostly industrial buildings, but there were some older homes in the area. “The Store” consisted of a few buildings that were not in great shape: all of them needed repairs and new roofs, and there were several leaks we had to put buckets under to catch water droplets when it rained. Four buildings total, the front office that had my dad’s and his younger brother Uncle Mark’s desks, the secretary’s office, and most importantly the only building with an AC unit or a bathroom. The front office is where they wrote up all the “Tickets”, or invoices, for customer purchases. Nothing was computerized except the credit card machine. Then there was a large warehouse where they stored all the carpet, carpet pad, vinyl and some of the windows and doors. My cousin Shannon and I used to play in the warehouse when we were young, running and jumping on the giant carpet rolls. It probably wasn’t the safest thing to do but we had fun.
The third building was one my Uncle Mark used for his woodworking business. Most commonly he took orders for custom kitchen cabinets, but sometimes he would make furniture such as bookcases. We were not allowed in that building due the equipment he had in there, several large saws. There was however, a swampy area right behind it that had water and lily pads. My father had seen several snakes in the pond, so we weren’t allowed to go there either.
The fourth building in actuality should be condemned, and at the time I hadn’t been it in since I was a child. When we were children, my cousin Shannon and I would play with an Indians and cowboys board game in that there. A few years after, the roof gave out and rainwater leaked into the building. Now the building is contaminated with mold and the roof is falling in.
With the business being in a bad area of town, some homeless people came into the Store asking for food or money. They never left empty handed. My father would take them to the local grocery store called Piggy Wiggly and get them a boxed lunch or take them to Jimmy’s Drive Through and get them a box of fried chicken.
My father insisted on feeding all the employees lunch every day too. He would buy them lunch from one of the local businesses – I remember many times while I worked there, getting permission to go up to Jimmy’s Drive Through and pick up lunch for everyone – or grocery store, or he would cook extra food the night before to bring in so everyone would be able to eat.
He treated everyone there fairly and considered all the employees family. During Christmas, he would host a Christmas lunch at the Store for our family, friends, and customers. Anyone was welcome to come - and to invite others too! My father would get pre-made ham, vegetables, and rolls from the Piggy Wiggly. I remember sometimes we would be close to running out of food, and he would send someone or himself up to that Piggy Wiggly to get more food to make sure we would have enough.
In his youth, my dad was a master poker and pool player. He used to stay out late at night playing at the ELK's club or various bars with his father. He made good money doing this, but my mother didn't like him staying out all night and drinking.
I remember one time when I was a child; my mother woke me in the middle of the night. My mother, Renee, was wearing a T-shirt and blue jeans, her long dark brown hair parted in the middle and styled. Her smoky grey eye shadow emphasized her brown eyes. She was petite, always looking younger than she really was. I remember thinking it was odd she was dressed and not in her pajamas.
She picked me up, took me outside to the backseat of her silver Oldsmobile car and buckled me in.
"Where are we going, Mommy?" I asked, sleepily.
My mother responded with a displeased look on her face, "We are going to go get your father."
After ten minutes we arrived at our destination and we headed into a small building. We were at a bar, it was very dark, and cigarette smoke flowed freely through the room. We headed to the pool table where my father was. I remember some older man saying as we passed, "That child shouldn't be in here." My mother ignored him.
Upon reaching the pool table, my mother said in a stern voice, "David, you need to come home it's late.”
“Come home Daddy,” I added in a timid voice.
Looking at us, my father relented, and we all left together.
My mother in the coming months made an agreement with my father that he could drink as much as he wanted, but at home. She was worried he'd kill someone or himself drunk driving. Growing up, I remember him often drinking a twelve pack of beer a night and smoked a pack of cigarettes every day, and I believe this contributed to the many cardiovascular issues he had later in life.
But even after my father stopped going out to bars and the ELK's club he still liked to play poker. We played poker at home often as a family. He also had a handheld poker game and a PlayStation One poker game he played. He would play the games for hours and carry the handheld poker game with him to work. Shortly before we realized something was going on with his memory, he stopped playing them both. At the time, we thought he had just lost interest, but perhaps he had forgotten how to play.