Dad and I ‘ran’ the store for 3 weeks while Mom stayed home with Gramma and Bonnie. Gramma’s life had come apart and she remained numbly devastated for this initial period and pretty much the rest of her life.
Mom’s personality took over and she became the ‘take charge’ leader of her family of origin. I know Dad was sympathetic with overtones of his own experience of never knowing his parents and losing his grandparents at an early age. So, there were some elements of him not knowing what to do to comfort his own wife and kids, let alone a mother-in-law who had never really warmed to him. (This changed 13 years later when Dad and Grandma faced the end of their lives.)
So, these two guys who the only musical instruments they could play were a radio and a record player ran a music store. Flanders Music was still a novelty in Tecumseh Michigan so we did have some customers who would come in to see the place. Dad would stand next to a Kimball piano and talk about the nice wood that was used to make the piano. I would stand next to the Kimball organ and talk about the on and off switch and how if you turned up the volume and touched the foot pedals it would rattle the frames on the wall. Not too many, ok, none, of the musical instruments were leaving the store to be delivered to happy musicians. Boyhowdy, did we need Mom.
It was Dad and I in the store at 112 East Chicago Blvd fending for ourselves. Since we didn’t want to close the store so we could go to lunch, One of us had to walk down the block to find sustenance. Four doors down was Larry’s Grill. Larry was a beady eyed skinny Italian man who ran the cheap grill. The food was quick and cheap. Very few of the men who frequented the establishment came for the food. They all wanted to see if Larry’s wife, Natashia, was working. In the vernacular, she was a real knockout.
It didn’t take long to figure out my favorite, a cheese burger and an coke. Dad would try different things which usually involved some type of gravy to drown the bland meat. We both learned quickly that when you owned a store and had take-out lunch you dropped the fork and waited on the customers. I knew that if I ever wrote a book about Flanders Music, it would be titled: “Cold Hamburgers and warm Cokes.”
For the rest of the day when Dad and I became ‘peckish’ Dad had his pipe and mud consistency coffee, so I needed my own snack. I am not positive where I developed my ‘go-to’ craving for nuts. It might have been when Grandma and Grandpa would have nuts in the shell at their house. I could spend many the pleasurable hour taking that nut cracker thingy and opening brazil, hazel, wal, pecan nuts and gobbling them down.
In the first week of opening the store, I wandered the other direction from Larry’s grill and three doors from our store was the dinky Woolworth’s 5 & Dime. It didn’t take me long to find out they had an old-fashioned nut counter. The kind with the hot lights to ‘roast’ the products. I would only settle for the ‘Deluxe Mix’ and would buy a bag at least once a week when Mom and Dad would give me a $5 bill for my week’s pay. (It was a year before it moved up to $10.
The proper way to eat a Deluxe Nut is one at a time to savory the distinct individual flavor of each kind. 50 years later I still do the same thing.
When I wasn’t eating comfort food, I was working in the rear of the store, which is where the ‘massive” record department was located. Actually the album rack was 6 feet long with 8 sections holding around 25 albums in each section. In the olden days, customers were far more likely to be looking for 45’s (the little record with the big hole) rather than LPs (the big record with the little hole).
I can’t recall who came up with the idea of how we displayed our selection of 45’s. My Dad enlisted the help of his Uncle Albert (more on him later) who was an excellent woodworker. It was a cabinet kind of thing that was 8 inches tall and 65 inches long. Every 2 inches a groove was cut on the top and bottom where I fitted a piece of stiff cardboard. These slots were numbered. Once a week I would fill out the new 9 inch listing of what record was in what slot. I learned to print neatly and I decided what order the records went in.
Soon after we opened, a radio station from Detroit called and asked to speak with the “record buyer”. I didn’t realize I held this important title, and Mom didn’t want to mess with it, so she handed the phone to me. It became a routine that on every Thursday I would call WKNR and tell them the ‘hottest records in Southeast Michigan’. This was 98% my opinion and came down to what I liked this week, regardless of sales. It made me feel important and I thought I was a trend setter.
When we first decided to open a store, Mom knew the types of musical instruments she wanted to sell. Dad for his part knew he wanted to sell a good TV and Stereo product. I don’t know where and how he became convinced we had to had Magnavox products. I heard him talk to customers over and over repeating, “This is the best TV you can buy, and it is fair traded – where ever you buy it, it will always be this price.” Other stores could sell RCA; General Electric or Motorola, Flanders Music had the best, we had Magnavox.
When you have a product, the thing that went along with it was the salesman from that company. Introducing the fist of the cast of characters we collected: the Magnavox ‘rep’: Burt Johnson. Burt was the epitome of a 60’s salesman. He was a large man with a booming voice and a non-stop smile. I wouldn’t call it a phoney flattery he kept spouting, “Bill you and your sons are going to create a Television and Stereo empire in this corner of Michigan,” but it did make Dad feel almost important.
Mom didn’t care for Burt maybe because he didn’t pay much attention to her. I rather liked him. He would pat me on the back as he rushed by saying, “Hello young man, it is a fine day isn’t it.” He insisted that I call him “Burt” and every-so-often he would tell me an almost dirty joke. He included me in the men’s fraternity. Heady stuff for a 15-year-old.
Once she returned to every day operation of the store would start to collect her own cast of characters. Needing to be adored, she had many more characters in her sitcom. And musicians tended to be…more eccentric.
The world of the weird and wacky Flanders Music was just beginning.