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Love & Joy at the Dollar General
by Al McSweyn

This Father’s Day my two granddaughters made a card for me with the simple verse “Roses are red, violets are blue, you’re the nices father then I no what to do!” Beneath the verse are two stick people holding shopping bags coming out of a yellow building labeled “Dollor Genre.” I know, the spelling and grammar is wrong, but that is the way they made it.

The Dollar General is the only retail store in our small Mississippi town and shopping there has been a ritual for my granddaughters and me the last several years. This started when Carrie was five and Katie was three. Each afternoon, Chris, my son, picks up Katie and Carrie from their schools, and they then finish the day with us at the Porches restaurant.

As I sit at my desk and prepare the daily deposit, they wrap their arms around me, one on each side, and ask, “Papaw, can we go to the bank with you?” After about the fiftieth time, I wise up. Of course the bank is not their main objective. The Dollar General is one door down and has a long aisle of toys. We always finish our bank trip with a visit to the Dollar General.

“Ok girls, hold it to three items each today,” I tell them. Some days it is four and occasionally they coerce me into five. For fifteen or twenty minutes they ponder their purchases, carefully going through the shelves of merchandise.

Today, they might select crayons and school supplies; other days, little dolls, play makeup and coloring books. I let them choose whatever strikes their fancy.

The purchases generally cost about five or six dollars, but no amount could equal the joy of watching their faces or the time spent with them.

After about the third week of this, my daughter-in-law informed me that any future purchases would have to remain at my house because she had no room for any more of “that stuff.” So now I have a large plastic bin (the kind for storing Christmas decorations) in a corner of the guest bedroom that contains their purchases.

Unfortunately, our trips to the Dollar General are becoming less and less frequent. With dance classes, softball practice, pool parties and sleepovers, their world is ever expanding and more demands are made of their time.

I know in the not-too-distant future, all my trips to the bank will be with Magnolia, my large black hound. She likes to sit in the passenger seat of the truck and looks forward to the doggie treat from Ms. Patty at the drive-thru window; however, she is not allowed in the Dollar General.

One of my hobbies is to make for family members small, intricate recipe boxes from exotic woods. Each one takes about twenty dollars of material and up to fifteen hours of time spread out over a week or so.

I have made two boxes a little bigger than a cigar box, one for each granddaughter. With walnut and maple sides and a Purple-heart top, hand rubbed with multiple coats of shellac, they are finished with small ornate brass hardware. The girls’ names are embossed on the tops with the words “Dollar General 2005-2007” beneath.

I have gone through the plastic bins and sifted out some of the good stuff: very large pencils, ink pens with fuzzy feather tops, pony tail holders, plastic roses, a few small books, other odds and ends. These I have put in their boxes along with their Father’s Day cards and a copy of this story.

Stored in old pillow cases, they are placed on the top shelf of my bedroom closet. I will see to it that someday these boxes make it to the girls' possession, but for now I will remain the keeper of the boxes and their contents.

And so, from time to time through the coming years, I will take the boxes down from their hiding place and examine their contents. This I will do to relive those afternoons in a small, slow Mississippi town when at the Dollar General all the love and joy that any one man is ever entitled to was freely bestowed by two small precious angels.


N. A. McSweyn was raised on a small farm in rural Copiah County, Mississippi. He served four years in the Navy during Vietnam aboard the USS Coral Sea aircraft carrier. Al retired from Bell South in 1990, and is happily married (forty-two years!) to Celia Elizabeth Scott from Port Gibson, Mississippi. He and Celia currently own and operate Porches Restaurant in Wesson, Mississippi [ PorchesOfWesson.com ] where they draw from their parents' and grandparents' heritage for their restaurant theme: “Traditional Southern Dining with an Imaginative Flair.” When customers ask Al if he is the restaurant owner, he tells them, “No, I work for my wife.”

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