A Child's Christmas at Welch's
(with apologies to Dylan Thomas)
When I was a young boy growing up in rural Sunfield, there were several places that competed for the center of my universe. One such place was Welch’s Hardware Store. This family hardware store was in down town Sunfield and was run by P. J. Welch. The store had been originally started by his father Ray. P. J. was probably my father’s best friend and they grew up in houses next to each other on Washington Street. My uncle Carrol McWhorter also worked there for quite a long time and he and my aunt Dee lived upstairs in an apartment. It was so neat to go up and visit then and be high over the alley on an open roof top that lead to the entrance to their apartment, from a back stairway. While in the ally their bull dog Chummy would run up and down the edge of the open roof and bark at me (he was just saying hello) but worried that he would fall off, he never did. As my grandfather owned the Tavern right next door to the hardware store, the two business shared the same alley and had back doors next to each other. The Welch home was across the alley behind their business, and my grandfather home was right behind his tavern also across the same alley. My grandparents had a hedge row that ran along their old horse barn, that made a passage way to a gate, that lead to the alley, and thereby gave me access to the hardware store’s back door. The gate at the end of this passage sometimes was locked, but ah, I knew the secret location of the key!! For a young boy there is nothing more prestigious then knowing the location of a secret key!!! I felt that this back door entrance to the store was special, not for regular customers (who would come in the front door) but only for “special” people like my family and me!!! I loved to go to the store and did frequently when I was visiting my grandmother. Welch's had everything imaginable, and it was just plain fascinating to wonder around their store just looking at stuff. I especially loved the fishing section, were I could buy tackle, such as line, hooks, bobber's, sinkers, and lures. The neatest lures were the ones that were shaped like real animals like, small fish, worms, even a frog!! I would buy stuff for my tackle box, regardless of whether I needed them or not, just looked so good to have this stuff in my kit!! I also frequented the area were there were models, that you assembled with glue, planes, boats, tanks, some great stuff, when I visited my grandmother, if the weather was bad she would take me over to Welch’s and let me pick out a model. I would of course pick also up a tube of “airplane glue”, I guess it was also called model cement, but it seemed like the preferred term was “airplane glue” whether you were putting together an airplane or not, I think a tube cost about 10 cents. Now-a-days, the model cement is virtually kept under lock and key, you may even need to be 18 to buy, because kids can get high off the fumes, who know maybe this is part of the reason why I liked to build models so much!! PJ was a pretty big time game hunter and had traveled all over to exotic places and had his trophies (heads) mounted up on all the walls. Such strange and wild creatures, they were huge, menacing, exotic and really cool!!, it made the store feel more like a museum that anything else. The store of course had real guns, which I was not that interested it, my fantasies resided over in the section of the store reserved for Bee Bee Guns!! Especially the Daisy Rifles. The very most basic lever action Daisy rifle cost about $6.89, or just short of 7 dollars and boy I wanted it! I knew better then to ask for any of the more fancy (and expensive) rifles and there were a bunch of nice ones, even a Bee Bee gun replicate of an old Colt .44 like in the cowboy days! And then there was the ammunition, slick, long, tubes of bee-bees, with a way to make a temporary spout at the end so you could pour the pellets into your gun. The more tubes the better, always good to stock up, and having a bunch of tubes for some reason looked great! I remember actually having dreams about these guns! So what did I plan to do with this gun? Well shoot it of course! There was a toy section, bikes, wagons, garden section, anything and everything that you could imagine. There was also a section for “ladies”, where the store had dishes, nick-knacks, cooking stuff, cook books, artificial flowers, and the works! Now what about the Christmas part of this story? Well each year, I would go with my grandmother over to Welch’s (by the way, we never went “to” Welch’s or “across” the alley to Welch’s it was always “over” to Welch’s but over what I don’t know. I would do all my Christmas shopping there, grandparents, parents, aunt and uncle (but would have to careful if uncle Carrol was around, so he wouldn’t see what I was buying for him and aunt Dee!! And of course something for my little sister Marsha, to the toy section for that!! Right now, as I set at my desk, I can see 3 of those hardware store presents on a shelf, an ashtray in the shape of a mule smoking a pipe, so when you put your cigarette in the ashtray, the smoke would came out of the pipe of the mule, that was for my father. I think I purchased a lot of ashtrays for my father back then! For a while my mom sorta started a salt and pepper shaker collection – so some other items on myself are two sets of shakers, two identical miniature milk cans and a little toaster, where each piece of bread is in fact a little shaker!! And I’ll just bet that I also purchased my fair share of snow globs from Welch’s, because everyone likes those, right! But the days of community/family owned hardware stores have come and passed, and now we all go to Home Depot, Lowes, etc. But nothing now can compare with the dreamland that for me was Welch’s Hardware and I am so glad that the store was donated by the Welch family to the Sunfield Historical Society and is now the Welch Museum! Many thanks to the entire Welch family for this gift to the community! My father would be pleased!