by Phyllis Martens
Wedged between Stoesz's grocery and Mrs. Dehmler's hat shop was a narrow two-story frame building. In the downstairs front window, under the words "Dyck's Drug Store" painted in white letters in a semi-circle, glass jars of peppermints and cinnamon candy sticks were arranged in rows, in front of them eat stacks of boxes and tins--headache powders, camphor, salves and ointments. The wooden step in front of the door was worn. A few weeds grew in the narrow strip of dirt between the building and the sidewalk.
Klaas Dyck was standing outside in the early morning sunshine polishing his window with a cloth when Helena came hurrying across the street.
"Goan Dach," he greeted her. "How is Johann? Is he sleeping better?" He put the cloth in the pocket of his apron and opened he door for her. Klaas was a short man, and comfortably stout so that vests and aprons were a snug fit. His shirt sleeves were held up by black armbands just above the elbow. He wore round gold-rimmed glasses.
"Much better, thank you." She was wearing a cotton house dress, somewhat rumpled as if she had moments before thrown off her apron to rush over. Her hotel was only a block away. "I just want some salve--I burned my arm on the stove pipe." She showed him a red welt on the inside of her arm.
Klaas walked around his showcase to the shelves behind it, filled with tins and boxes of all sizes. He selected a small flat tin and opened it. "Put some on, it'll heal you in no time."
Helena sniffed. "Smells terrible--what is it?" She rubbed a little on the burn, paused, then opened her purse. "How much?" He told her. She snapped the purse shut. "Is it all right if I charge it?"
"Yah, sure," he said mildly, "you can pay me when you get back on your feet. How is business--you getting enough roomers?" He wrote up her purchase on a paper beside the till.
"Four last night," she said, looking at her arm. "Salesmen--they left early. Good stuff you got here, Klaas." She moved toward the door, then instead sat down. For the customers' convenience Klaas had installed a few chairs, attractive ones with round wooden seats and graceful iron loops for backs.
"Listen, I heard you want to resign from the school board." She looked at him inquiringly.
Klaas took the cloth from his pocket and wiped the top of his showcase, slowly, moving aside the tall jars of red and white striped peppermint sticks. At last he said, "I'm getting too old for their fights."
"What do you want to do--sit in here all day?"
His eyes wandered around the tiny shop: display case filled with candies, wooden shelves crammed with bottles and tins, smooth floor rubbed to a dark shine. "Why not? It's a nice store."
"Who'll take your place, then?"
He rubbed his neck thoughtfully. "Al Eytzen wants the job...Bekker's nephew. Young guy, farms east of town."
"What, Al Eytzen? He's still wet behind the ears! He'll vote whatever way Bekker tells him, you can bet on it!?
"Well? Bekker isn't so bad. Does a pretty good job on the Council, Martin told me. Says he wants to help the town."
"Bekker has about as much sense as an iron post! If he wants to help the town, let him stand in the park to tie the horses to!"
"Klaas chuckled. "The hotel isn't taming you tongue, I can see."
She laughed. "Well, it's true. But listen, the public school is going good. You got some new teachers in, music and such. My girls like it. But let Bekker and his gang get hold of it, we'll have another German School."
"A lot of people like the German School."
She leaned forward. "Klaas Dyck, now you're making fun. You know it and I know it, let them get hold of this town, we'll go back to horse and buggy days. Look at the Valley church...they finally had a few Bible classes in English till some preacher made a fuss, they had to go back to German. Not that I talk all that well myself, but let me learn if I want to! No, no, you stay on. Tell them you changed your mind."
She broke off when a small girl opened the door, followed by an older boy, both very blonde. "Steven and Hedy Erickson," Klaas said. "Children, this is Mrs. Jungas who runs the hotel now because her house burned down. You remember the big fire?
The two gazed at her in wonder. "Did you jump out the upstairs windows?" the boy asked.
Helena laughed. "No, no we had plenty time to get out."
The girl, beaming, held up a dime. "Uncle Sorensen gave us this, and Mama is making pancakes."
The children began their inspection of the candy in the show case. "Take your time," Klaas told them. "It takes planning to spend a whole dime properly." They walked back and forth, whispering and pointing at the peppermint sticks, candy corn, gold coins and chocolate mice, lemon and raspberry drops.
At last the boy straightened up and said in a business-like voice, "We want four pennies of peppermints, one penny of licorice, and a nickel gum balls."
"Do you agree? I suppose it's your dime too?" Klaas asked the girl. She nodded and held out the dime, rocking on her toes. Klaas put the candy in a small paper bag and handed it to the boy. "And how is Grandma Erickson? Is her head still hurting her?"
"It's a little better," the boy said.
"Only a little?" Klaas took a small packet from a shelf. "I want you should bring her this. Tell her to take some every day--the directions are written on the back. Just something to try, tell her it's free. And listen, be quiet in the house. Noise hurts her head. If you want to make noise, go outside. Let me see how quiet you can walk." The two tip-toed to the door. "Very good. Now then, be sure you show Uncle Sorensen our new beautiful high school. Tell him it cost thirty-two thousand dollars."
Helena laughed, watching the children run off. "Oh, you! You'll never get rich, giving away stuff."
Klaas sighed. "That's what Martha tells me. But what can I do? I can't help it. Anyway why should I worry about getting rich? When I die someone else will get it all. Better to help someone out a little, if I can." He took off his glasses, squinted at them, and began polishing them with a handkerchief. "I'm getting old. Not much an old guy can do."
Helena got up. "You're a good man, Klaas. We found out who our friends were when our store burned down." She stood regarding him affectionately for a moment, then walked to the door. "You want to help the town, stay on the school board."
"Wait!" Klaas held up a hand to detain her. "Martha wanted you to have dill next time you came in. Wait a minute, I'll get it." He hurried out to the back part of the store and returned directly with a bundle of fresh dill tied together with store string.
Helena looked silently at the dill. "Viel mal dank schon, tell her thank you. The last time anybody gave me dill, it was Tante Joht...." Her eyes filled with tears. She took the dill and walked slowly out of the store.
Klaas watched her suddenly quicken her pace and veer off across the street. A moment later a tall, smartly dressed woman came into view, holding by the hand a small girl in a blue velvet dress. He laughed to himself. "Helena will be mad all day she didn't dress up," he said aloud. "At least she took her apron off."
(To be continued)