The storekeeper who caredPublished 10:50pm Monday, April 15, 2013
By Dennis Edwards
He never said much, but he smiled at me all the time. Behind the smile was a gentle but attentive nature that belied a clarity of spirit I admire even to this day.
Mr. Welch ran the store at Smith and Wellons Street for much of my life. Mr. Jimmy was his faithful helper, and Tojo, the little guy on the big bicycle, delivered groceries every day.
I can’t remember when I didn’t know Mr. Welch. His store was my preferred stop every day. Not because neighbors like the Sullivan’s sent their daughter Donna down to buy fresh bread, meat and produce. But because in the ‘60s, Mr. Welch, bless his soul, carried some of the finest-quality junk food in the world, like Rain-Blo bubble gum — grape was my favorite, then cherry and then watermelon. There were Squirrels Nut Zippers, BB Bats, Sugar Daddys, Black Cows, strawberry cookies, pickles, potato chips and every other kind of exquisite junk known to young men and women.
But there was something else at Welch’s Grocery, something that meant more to me than even the best junk food. Mr. Welch was the epitome of humanity and compassion. It wasn’t so much what he did that mattered to me. It was what he didn’t do that I’ll always remember.
Unfortunately I never got to thank him until now.
After my father died in 1960, I started taking bubble gum and candy whenever I went into Welch’s. Not every day, but sometimes in the beginning and then later I got bold. I’d walk in, look at him, take the bubble gum and then walk out the door.
He never said a word. But I can’t forget the disappointment in his eyes. The hurt on his face literally haunted me for years. It mattered to me what he thought.
One day I walked in on a candy run. But Mr. Welch wasn’t alone. My mother was there. Seems Mr. Welch decided to call her to put an end to my escapade. Needless to say, mama wasn’t happy, and I found out later just how unhappy she was. But I never did that again.
Almost 45 years later, I told this story to my psychologist. I’d always felt guilty about it, and thought I’d done it because of some sort of latent streak of larceny in me. Not so, he said.
It turns out that when very young children lose their parents early in life, they have what some psychologists call a series of loss reactions. Some act out their anger by taking things, kind of a powerless soul’s attempt to regain some control by taking something back. If left unchecked, some people even tragically take this behavior into their adult business practices.
My psychologist explained the behavior and told me it was a natural reaction I shouldn’t feel guilty about. But I did, and for a time I never went back into Mr. Welch’s store. I was too embarrassed to go back. I stayed away as time transitioned from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood.
Suddenly he was gone. So was Mr. Jimmy. There was no one to thank for Mr. Welch’s kind decision to call my mother and not the police.
Saying thank you to Mr. Welch is one of a litany of things I need to do now that I’m back home. His decision to call my mother might have altered my life. I know it altered my backside.
But even more than that, it made me eternally grateful for the rainbow of people who shaped life for me in my hometown. Later we’ll talk about T.E. Cooke, Aunt Suzie, Mr. Montcastle, Mr. Bell and Old Man Outlaw.
But today belongs to Mr. Welch. Thank you and God bless you.
Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.