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Up. Up and Away
by Don Drewniak

I had a driver’s license in my wallet two days after I turned sixteen in April of 1959. Shortly thereafter, thanks to a tip from a guidance counselor at my high school, B.M.C. Durfee in Fall River, MA, I secured a job at H. Schwartz and Sons Lumber and Hardware. Four weeks later I was driving a 1952 Ford that cost me $99.00.

My official job title was “Stock Boy.” However, I ended up doing just about everything there was to be done, from replenishing stock to sales to deliveries.

The following tale is one of my favorites from my Schwartz days.

It didn’t take me long to get accustomed to delivering white goods, including refrigerators which were big-selling items back then. I usually worked in the early days with Ernie (his last name has passed into the dustbin of history), who had recently been discharged from the U.S. Army. He eventually moved on and was replaced in turn by two successors.

During the summer following my graduation from Durfee, I partnered with the first of Ernie’s replacements to deliver one of the larger model refrigerators sold by the store. Not only was it large and heavy, the delivery was to a third-floor apartment located in the Flint section of the city. By then, the store had of all things, a new Chevrolet Corvair pick-up truck. More properly, it was what General Motors called a truck.

We unboxed the refrigerator at a nearby storage garage, wrapped it in two heavy blankets, strapped it and secured it in the back of the Corvair. The rear end of so-called truck dropped at least six inches. Off we went. After checking with the owner-to-be, we lugged it up three or four stairs to a porch and into a short hallway.

My rookie partner was in his late thirties and lasted only two weeks on the job. I told him that we were going to have to remove the banisters.

“You sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“Maybe we can take the blankets off.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“You ever try to haul a refrigerator up stairs with no straps and blankets? We’d scratch and dent the hell out of it and probably kill ourselves.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“If you say so, boss.”

No jury will convict me if I smash his empty skull with a tire iron.

With the first-to-second-floor banisters removed, up we went. That is, up we went to a sharp turn halfway up to the second floor. That was it. (The mistake was mine as I should have realized the refrigerator was too large to clear the turn.)

Cro-Magnon was bringing up the bottom. I told him we needed to bring the refrigerator back down.

“Why?”

“Because it’s too big for the turn.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Maybe if we turn it sideways it will make it.

If I let go of the straps, it will look like an accident.

“Dupkiem.” (Polish off-color expression)

“What?”

“I’m sure.”

We made it back down to the hallway.

“I’m going upstairs to call the store. Make sure no one steals it.”

“Okay.”

I called the store only after I assured the buyer that it was a local call. Subsequent to explaining the situation to Izzy (one of the two owners of the store), he asked, “Will it fit through a window?”

“Let me check.”

I put the phone down and checked out the two front living-room windows.

“With inches to spare.”

“Let me speak to the buyer.”

I handed the phone over to him and backed out of earshot. A minute later, the buyer informed me that help was on the way. Two guys from the lumberyard showed up fifteen minutes later with a block and tackle. They did a helluva job. Within an hour, the refrigerator was sitting in the living room and the window was back in place.

“It’s all yours,” said one of them as they headed down the stairs.

Cro-Magnon and I rolled it into to a pantry after removing the blankets.

Uh-oh!

The opening was at the far end of the room. It looked too narrow.

This is going to be interesting.

I asked the buyer the width of the opening.

“Thirty-three and a quarter inches.”

The refrigerator was exactly thirty-three inches and most of the space was thirty-three and a quarter, but there was a counter overhang of a half-inch.

“Did you measure from the overhang?”

Silence.

Cro-Magnon and I tried to push it into the space. It was impossible.

“You’ll have to take it back,” said the buyer.

“I’ll have to check with the store.”

“Just take it back.”

“I need to call the store.”

I explained the situation to Izzy.

“Leave it.”

Grabbing the blankets and straps, I told Cro-Magnon, “Let’s go,” and headed out the door. The buyer followed us down the stairs yelling and swearing the whole way. Once we were in the cab of the Corvair, he grabbed onto the edge of the passenger-side door where the window was rolled down and looked as if he was trying to stop me from driving away.

“Roll your window up,” I yelled to Cro-Magnon, as I started the Corvair. The buyer screamed and let out a volley of foul words as his fingers nearly were caught between the rapidly rising window and door frame. Off we went.

As soon as we made it back to the store, I went to see Izzy in the office he shared with Lester, his brother.

“The new owner of the ‘fridge called me twice. He said he’s going to sue me and called you a teenage punk.”

“You worried about being sued?”

“No, we have his money, he has the ‘fridge. I told him that if he brings it back to the store in perfect condition, we will either give him his money back or give him a smaller ‘fridge. I guess you and the new guy didn’t get a tip.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.

Years later whenever my wife and I visited my parents, we would stop at the store to see Izzy and Lester if it wasn’t a Sunday or a holiday. I can’t remember the year, but as we approached what should have been the store and lumberyard on one of our visits, they were gone without a trace. I stopped the car and stared in disbelief. In their place was a parking lot for a nearby church. It was all I could do not to cry. Flashing through my mind were memory after memory of events and incidents that happened during the years I had the privilege to work for Izzy and Lester Schwartz.