When Silence Was Golden

From the mid-1940s until the late 1960s, my parents owned a department store. Compared to today’s massive big box stores it was small. As a result of hard labor and long hours, the business was well patronized by our town’s residents.

At one time or another, all family members worked at the store in various capacities, usually starting as a pre-teen doing menial, but very necessary tasks. By age 10, I was sweeping the front sidewalk and making countless trips up and down the stairs carrying boxes to or from the stockroom to the sales floor. As I got older, I was given more responsibility and gained a lot of very valuable experience.

One evening, after the store was closed, Dad asked me to replace 3 burned out fluorescent light bulbs. I disliked this job because it required climbing up a very tall stepladder while carefully balancing an 8 foot long bulb. I brought a box of new bulbs up from the basement and set up the ladder. Having successfully replaced 2 bulbs, I heaved a big sigh of relief, and focused on the last one. Again, I cautiously climbed the ladder, removed the old bulb and handled the new one as if it was a priceless antique. I must have bumped it against the light fixture or the ceiling because all of a sudden the bulb shattered into a gazillion pieces, covering the floor and some of the merchandise. It was not a pretty picture. I could cry, run, or swear. I chose the latter.

Dad was in another part of the store and rushed to me. Yes, he was a little upset but, surprisingly, not mad. He helped me clean up the mess with an old vacuum cleaner. During the process he said, “It’s okay. I did the same thing a few years ago. I’m just glad the shattered bulb was a burned out one because the new ones are so outrageously expensive.” In a split second, I realized silence was golden and to keep my mouth shut. Dad did not need to know the truth, at least not yet. I successfully installed another brand new bulb and never brought up the subject again. There are some things a 13 year old kid must keep to himself, or at least until after his dad dies, which in this case was 37 years later.

Are there any childhood secrets you’ve kept for decades?