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Monday, 12 March 2012


By Nancy Leitz

In 1967, I was was in a serious funk. The excitement of our Air Force/NASA days was over and I was wondering what to do with all the time I had left over now that things were settled and all the kids were in school.

When I found myself turning on Captain Kangaroo in the morning and I was the only one in the house, it dawned on me that I had to find a little part time job to get me out and about in our little town and meet some people.

There was a small pharmacy on our Main Street and I went there and asked if they needed any help in the store. The owner told me that the store was covered but that they needed a pharmacy assistant and would I be interested in that?

The owner was also the pharmacist and he had two other pharmacists who worked when he needed time off. So, it was decided that I would work on week days from 9AM to 3PM.

So I started the job and began to learn about medicines and prescriptions and how to look up prescriptions for refills for the pharmacists. It was fun because it brought me in contact with so many people who were my neighbors but who I might never have known if it were not for the drug store.

The Vietnam war was on and we were pleased when we would look out at the counter and see a soldier standing there. We always made a big fuss over them and told them how happy we were to see them safe and sound.

Once I looked out and there was a soldier standing there in full camouflage gear. I walked out as if to speak to him but walked right past him and returned to the back. I said in a very loud voice to Herb (the owner/pharmacist), "I thought I heard someone out there, Herb, but when I got out there nobody was there."

The soldier called again and this time, I went out and looked all over for him but again, I couldn't spot anybody. He kept calling and we kept looking for him.

Finally, we gave in and noticed him and by this time, the whole store was laughing and hugging the guy. He was pleased with all the attention and we didn't charge him for the things he purchased. It was such a fun thing to do.

One young fellow came in when he was on leave from Vietnam. His name was Jimmy DePaul, we knew his family very well and we were really pleased to see him.

He said he was home for two weeks before going back and we would see him again before he went. A few days later, he came in with a package from the small grocery store down the street. He had a pound of American cheese and called to me to please come out from the back because he wanted to ask me about the cheese.

He opened it up and said, "Is this square cheese? My Mom sent me for square cheese."

I called the others to decide whether it was square cheese or not. Herb said, "Well, it's not round. Or rectangular. What do you think, Nance?"

"I think it's square American cheese and it's safe to take it home to your Mom."

After he left someone said, "This is why we can't win that goddamned war over there. These young kids are not even old enough to know shapes!" It was true; Jimmy was just 18.

A few months later, Mr. DePaul came in and we all asked about Jimmy. He was okay but very homesick. We got his address from his Dad and wrote him a card telling him how much we missed him and we all signed it.

The next time I saw his Dad, he told me that Jimmy was always writing to them about the camping trips the family used to take to the Pocono Mountains. Or the trips they took to the shore. Or the time Mr. DePaul took him on the train to Washington to see the Capitol. His Dad was so happy that Jimmy was reliving those trips while he was over there so far from home.

He told me that their house only had one bathroom and they had four kids so he and Mrs. DePaul were always saving to build a nice new bathroom. BUT, he told me, "Every time we saved enough for the new bathroom, we would say, oh the heck with the bathroom, let's take the kids to the seashore instead." And they did that over and over through the years.

Then, Mr. DePaul said something I will never forget. He lowered his voice and spoke very quietly as he said, "My wife and I are so happy when we get those letters from Jimmy talking about the good times we had on the camping trips and the weeks we spent at the shore. Do you think he would ever write to us and say, "Hey, Dad and Mom, didn't we have a terrific bathroom?"

I am very happy to tell you that Jimmy DePaul came home from Vietnam in great shape and married his high school sweetheart.

Now SHE sends him for square cheese.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. PLEASE read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a sweet story, Nancy. You gave us a charming glimpse into small-town life.

Very sweet story and I am glad he now (presumably) knows his shapes. You played a funny trick on the guy in camouflage!!

What a beautiful story Nancy - I felt so anxious in case he didn't come home!And what a wise man his father was - nice reminder about what is important in life. Many Thanks

What a beautiful heartwarming story Nancy. I was so relieved to see that he came home safely to his family...wonderful.

It is a happy story when the hero comes home safely. Glad Jimmy's story was one of those. Your town was the exception to the rule when it came to treating Vietnam veterans well. Most of our boys came home and quickly hid their uniforms to keep from being mistreated.

Your story makes such an important point about values. Our memories and togetherness are far more valuable to us than material things, even as kids. Our family of six grew up in a one-bathroom Cape Cod bungalow that had only a bathtub--no shower. To this day, I wonder how we did it! But we did, and recalling those days of taking turns, running tubs, "saving" hot water, and sharing a bath with my little sister still make me smile. So do memories of family vacations and long car trips with NO DVDs or HEADPHONE JACKS! Aaah, now those were the days. LOL.

Leave it to you, Nancy, to play the trick on the soldier wearing camouflage. Only you would think of it.

My son was draft age during the Viet Nam war and granny annie is right. Those poor Vets who went through one of the most hellish wars in history were treated shamefully when they returned. I am so glad your town was different.

Yes, Lyn,It's the same little town I live in today; near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

We had so much fun with that camouflage fellow, Judy.He really enjoyed being the center of attention and I think we made him feel special.

You are right,Jeanette, Mr. DePaul did have in priorities in order,didn't he? Smart man and good Dad.

We were all thrilled when Jimmy came into our store after he came home safe and sound,Joy.What a blessing.

Annie: And isn't it a shame?We were very proud of the young men from our town who served in Vietnam. Even if we didn't like the war we loved the troops.

In those days young men were drafted into the service and had no choice and still they were treated badly by some. Today it is all volunteer and the public mostly loves the troops while hating the wars.

Hi Nance,

I enjoyed reading your comment because we were also a family of six with one bathroom. The thing is, we had no idea we were underpriveleged so it made perfect sense to me to take a bath with my sister.

About the trips with DVDs and Headphones,please don't get me started...


There were about 5 customers and clerks in the store at the time the camouflaged soldier came in and when I pretended to not be able to spot him they all fell quickly into the game.

We were all looking around and nobody saw anyone.

Finally,the fellow caught on and started to laugh himself which is when we "discovered"
him. It was a great chuckle for everybody,including him.

There was a lot of love in those laughs and hugs.

I must admit to bracing myself for an unhappy ending. So glad it was not.

We need a world of more caring, fun-filled people. Thanks for another terrific story…

Claire Jean,

The very best part of writing this story was that I knew all along that Jimmy came back to us safe and sound.

Glad you enjoyed reading it. Thanks for the nice comment.

This really relieved my mind about the back bedroom that never gets done, but that we have gone on this trip or that. I feel so badly that our son doesn't have his own room yet, but I know he appreciated the trip to Florida. Thanks for sharing this. I'm glad Jimmy came home. But I'll admit I'm baffled about the square cheese.

Hi Beth,

Thanks for reading my story and taking the time to comment.

A lot of us never had our own room..Heck, I never had a bath by myself.. but I remember when my parents took us kids to the New York World's Fair in 1939. I can still remember most of what we saw there.

Your boy will remember his trip to Florida into his adult years and seldom give a thought to his bedroom.

About the Square Cheese. Maybe it is a regional Philadelphia expression,but we always called yellow American Cheese "Square Cheese". To this day if you go to a Deli and ask for square cheese they know exactly what you mean.

Hope to see you back here reading our stories again.

Nancy, you had me there for a moment. I expected a sad ending to the story. Thankfully my hunch proved wrong. Great story.

Thanks,GM. Happy you enjoyed the story and I,too, am glad it didn't have a sad ending.

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