My great grandfather's store could be a forbidding place because back in one corner, up five or six stairs, you had a clear, floor-level view of the living room of an attached house, a place comparable to the bell tower of Notre Dame de Paris because, up there, somewhere lurking about, lived not only my great-grandfather (Pepere) but also my grand-uncle Ti-Lou, short for Petite Louis, or Little Lou, who resembled Quasimodo with a bad attitude. People felt sorry for him until they actually met him and experienced his foul demeaner. Family legend portrayed Uncle Ti-Lou as the victim of a terrible accident many, many years ago when he was just a boy, but family whispers confided that he was born, plainly and simply, a monster.
The store was a popular source of penny candy for kids, but each and every one of them, including me, hoped that my quiet and mild-mannered Pepere, not Ti-Lou, would be the cashier. If you walked into the store and Pepere was nowhere in sight, you would glance up the stairs into the living room and see Ti-Lou start rolling off the sofa with a snarl, aggravated that you interrupted his fascination with the latest entertainment, black-and-white television.
And, his was a grim visage.
To neighborhood kids, he was celebrated frightfully as--HIM--"THE HUNCHBACK."
He moved slowly, one arm swinging in a wide, high arc, his impatience and physical struggle palpable:
Step, lunge, grunt, off the couch and across the floor.
Then, down the stairs, one step by torturous step, step, lunge, grunt.
Some children ran from the store at the sight of such an awful man, but I had a nickle in my pocket and I was eager to purchase a wide variety of goodies, a penny each, and I had to think about my choices as Uncle Ti-Lou crouched behind the glass case.
"One of those," I would point, as Uncle Ti-Lou grabbed my goody and dropped it into a small paper bag (what a great sound!)."And, uhm..., let me see.... One of those, and...uhm...."
To me, this should involve a lot of careful thought, but not to Uncle Ti-Lou. When I paused to think again, he barked loudly, "Come on, come on! I don't have all day!"
His growl was so threatening that I had to pick out my last two pennies worth of candy by settling for "two more of those."
I was lucky I got any candy at all, according to some of the kids in the neighborhood.
T. St. Laurent