A Trip To The Pay ‘N Takit

May 11, 2011 by

A Trip To The Pay ‘N Takit

As we motored past a huge sign board that said, “DRINK CANADA DRY” with a picture of an frosty bottle of Canada Dry Lemon Lime, my grandfather, who was driving said, “John, I tried to drink Canada Dry and it can’t be done…”

That was only one of my Grandfather’s many puns. Another was when passing a sign that said, “SLOW-MEN WORKING”, he turned to me and said, “I sure wish they’d hire some fast men for that job…” or another time when driving in town he said, “Watch out for those PED-XING’s, they’ll get you every time…” I called him on the phone one day and asked, “What’re you doin Grandpa?” to which he quickly answered, “Mil-dewing.” I attribute my sense of humor to him. He trained me well as a youngster.

John W. Strobel II, my Grandpa, was great at speaking in metaphors and riddles that challenged a child’s mind to stop and think. Even today I can remember thinking, “What did he just say?” And then, slowly the light would dawn and I would come to comprehend the meaning of his words. He was always there, watching me closely when he planted one of his gems, ready to give me further explanation if it was needed and always with a smile of joy and understanding.

When he was sure I knew the meaning of his words of wisdom he would begin to talk about the subject, weaving a fabric of descriptive words that left no doubt in your mind that Grandpa, “Knows about this, because he’s been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.” He would try to catch me for not paying attention by speaking in Mandarin Chinese. He learned the language as a young man when he was “Shanghied” (kidnapped) off of the docks of San Francisco. He lived in China for four years making trips back and forth to America on the Chinese merchantman sailing ship. (I tell about that story and many others about him in my biographical novel of his life, “Shanghied”).

So when he thought I wasn’t listening closely enough he would speak to me in Chinese. It always brought me back from my day dreams.

Grandpa was a man of honor and his veracity was above reproach. He was a God fearing man who left his very unique mark on his ever changing world. He was in awe of the modern day “things” that we “youngsters” took for granted. He always looked up when an airplane flew overhead, he relished indoor plumbing and that you could get water by just turning a knob. His automobiles were his most precious possessions among his “things”. He chauffeured my very proper and prim Grandma around proudly. He always described my Grandma as “Satin and lace”. She owned and operated a millinery shop in San Francisco when they met and her use of satin and lace in her creations was the reason he thought of her that way.

Grandma and Grandpa were two people who were made for each other. They were so much alike in their thinking and facing the challenges of an ever changing world, a world full of modern people who lived life much differently than the people of the world from which they came, the Victorian Era. It was difficult for them to be anything but a lady and a gentleman.

My Grandma still stuck to the regimen of her “old days” as she called them. She washed clothes on Mondays, Tuesdays she actually made homemade butter from the cream that rose to the top of the milk bottles that were delivered to her door. She would save the cream all week and then mix it, first with a hand cranked egg beater, and later a “Mixmaster” electric mixer, which along with her “Servel” refrigerator were the pride of her kitchen.

Wednesday’s she sewed, darned socks, and made doll’s clothes for my sister’s playthings. Her experience as a milliner (Making lady’s hats) served her well throughout her life. She was an excellent seamstress who could mend the knees in my overalls (Worn out from playing marbles) so that they looked like new.
Thursday was baking day and oh do I remember the smells that came from her tiny kitchen. Fresh baked bread that I always got hot from the oven and slathered with her homemade butter and blackberry jam. She gave me the first Toll House Cookie I ever ate, made with butter not margarine. Oh the joy of those crunchy sugar cookies with the chocolate bits that exploded on my taste buds.

Friday was grocery shopping day. Grandma would dress to the nines, always with a fancy, dressy hat perched on her head. She would make Grandpa stop what he was doing in the yard or the garage and come in to “clean up to go the the “Pay ‘n Takit”. I don’t care if the store was named Safeway, Piggly Wiggly, A & P or Moosepoot’s, to Grandma they were the “Pay ‘n Takit”. (I seem to remember her reason for using that term for all grocery stores was that she would never charge her groceries as people had done in the era of the old family operated grocery stores. If she didn’t have the cash, she wouldn’t buy it.) Once upon a time there may have been a chain of stores called ”Pay ‘n Takit” but I have not been able to find any trace of them.

On her shopping day, when Grandpa was dressed to her strict shopping standards she would say, “Dad, get the car out and we’ll go to the “Pay ‘n Takit”, then she would watch closely as he backed their 1934 Plymouth sedan out of the old crooked wooden building.

Grandpa kept that car like it was a Rolls Royce, and to them it was. It was painted in a gun metal gray and had a trunk on the back that Grandma always insisted he keep clean so they could put their groceries in it. It also had a long stick shift between them and from the back seat I would occasionally hear, “Dad, stop that!!!” Grandpa would let his hand slip off of the shift stick and onto Grandma’s knee…He would giggle and say, “Ok, mother, I’ll be good…” He was a scamp. Other than the name, it is something else I think I inherited from him. I tend to be “scampy” from time to time…But on to the “Pay’n Takit”.

A shopping trip with them was always an adventure. Grandma would examine everything she bought, from fresh vegetables to canned goods, very closely. She would never, ever buy a can of anything if the can had a dent in it. She wouldn’t buy meat at the “Pay ‘n Takit”, she had a favorite butcher shop where she bought their beef and pork and she insisted on driving out into the country to “Gobel’s Chicken Farm” for a fresh chicken or turkey. And when I say fresh, I mean there were times she would choose a live fowl and stand there while Mr. Gobel butchered and plucked it. I found myself fascinated by the way the chickens ran around, blood spurting from their headless necks when Mr. Gobel would chop the heads off. After the plucking, Grandma always asked for the feathers in a separate bag, she used them to make pillows…

Saturdays were for rest and baths. Yes I know those of you who shower every day immediately wonder how they could go for a week without bathing. Well they didn’t, they washed themselves clean every morning with a “Warsh cloth” but then luxuriated in the bath on Saturday evenings to prepare for church on Sunday. My sister and I would spend the night with Grandma and Grandpa on Saturdays so we could go to church with them.

Grandma was a strict Christian Scientist who claimed the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the religious order, had saved her life. When she was in her early thirties she developed a rasping cough and doctors in San Francisco told her she probably had only months to live and then only if Grandpa moved her to a warmer climate. How wrong they were, she lived to be ninety plus years of age. I say ninety plus because no one knew her true age. It wasn’t vanity, she just didn’t know the exact year she was born. She came into this world in a little Oregon village named Myrtle Creek and other than knowing that her birthday was December 8th, the year was not important enough to be remembered by her family. She claimed, when she would talk about it, that she was probably born in 1877 or 78, but she wasn’t sure.

On Sunday morning’s Grandpa would dress to the nines, then back the car out of the garage and very elegantly Grandma would get in the front seat while my sister, Jackie, and I got in the back. When we got to the white marble structure with its large columns, Grandma and Grandpa would go into the main meeting hall while Jackie and I went to Sunday school in another part of the building. After church they would take us to Valentine’s Dairy for ice cream or sometimes Grandma made a picnic lunch and Grandpa would drive us up to “Camp Comfort” in the Ojai Valley. It was one of the favorite places of our childhood with its huge swings and a large hand operated “merry go round”. I say hand operated because to enjoy the rush of fresh air when you rode on it someone had to push it with a running start then climb aboard for the duration of the spins. We thought we were in heaven when we went to “Camp Comfort”. My children later renamed it “Camp Uncomfortable”. They didn’t appreciate the swings and “roundy round” as they called it like my sister and I had. It was my first awareness of the differences between the new generation and mine.

Grampa worked for Shell Oil in the Ventura Avenue oil fields as a boiler maker and constructing the old wooden derricks. When steel derricks became the order of the day he retired. But retiring from Shell Oil wasn’t the end of his career as a builder. He was too industrious to just sit around and watch the world go by. He always had some project he was working on. He supervised many a building project for my mom and dad. He built my dad’s radio repair shop, my mom’s flower shop and he conducted numerous plumbing adventures. I say adventures because grampa’s solution to a plumbing problem was not always pretty when the job was finished but it always worked. He could run pipes around and through things that a regular plumber would never think of let alone try.
I remember working with him one particular day during the depression. Grampa took me with him on many of his sundry jobs . I tried to lift rolls of tar paper with which he was re-roofing a house. I was not able to lift the 90 pound roll of roofing material (I probably only weighed about 50 pounds myself) so he put me in charge of the heater with which he melted the tar that went along the outer edge of the roofing paper to make it watertight. I was in awe when he hoisted the heavy rolls of tar paper onto his shoulder with ease, then climbed the ladder and placed them gently on the roof. He never did anything roughly, even in his work he was gentle, a true “Gentle man”.

As we worked he would tell me stories of his childhood, his experiences mining for gold in the Sierra’s with Will Donavan, his father’s partner, or when he fought in the Spanish American War of 1898 and the Philippine American war in which he served aboard the USS Oregon in Admiral Dewey’s blockade of Manila Bay or of how he and Grandma, he always call her mother in his stories, survived the great San Francisco earthquake. His horse “Thunder” galloped over crevices that were opened by the shaking and took him home to their destroyed apartment. He found Grandma in the street outside their home crying hysterically, holding the neighbor’s baby in her arms. They salvaged what they could, mostly camping equipment, and moved to Golden Gate Park where they lived with thousands of other displaced families. Grandpa was very colorful in telling me his stories but he always ended them by saying, “Johnny, may the good lord strike me dead if I’m lying…” I knew he would not call down the wrath of the lord over a story so I believed every one of them and as far as I was ever able to find out, he was telling me factually, those things that happened to him as a young man. John W. Strobel II, a gentle gentleman…

His last story was much like all of those of his youth, full of bravery and optimism. At age 77 Grandpa went into the bathroom to “warsh up”. He came out in his pajamas, went over to Grandma and said, “Mother, I think my time has come…” He took three steps to the divan, laid down and passed away. He died like he lived his life, with his eyes wide open, fearing he might miss something, I’m sure…

Grandma died two years later. But you know, I don’t remember anyone ever using the term “Pay ‘n Takit” again after Grandpa died. Grandma went to live with my mom and dad and they always went to “Von’s”… Too bad, “Pay ‘n Takit” has such a poetic sound to it…In fact, excuse me, I’m going to get the car out and go to the “Pay ‘n Takit.”

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6 Comments

  1. Wow you guys thank you for your kind comments and Caroll I think you struck a chord in my memory bank, I seem to remember now Grandma complaining because Safeway had taken over Pay ‘n Takit…Probably why I referred to Safeway in the story…Anyway, thanks a bunch all of you, your comments make it all worth while…JWSIII

  2. Caroll Houser via Facebook

    John may be happy to know that the Pay n Takit stores were part of the Skaggs family of stores. In 1919 The brothers form a partnership called Skaggs United Stores. In Ogden, Utah L.J. meets and marries Mary Dee, daughter of a Mormon convert from Holland. They work together to open a chain of Pay’n Takit Stores. These would eventually (1928) become part of Safeway.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skaggs_family

  3. Donna Morask

    http://www.tempe.gov/museum/tempe_history/properties/hps216.htm

    Hey John, I found this reference under Pay N Tak it, apparently it was a chain founded in Tempe AZ, under the cash and carry premise. Good article. I had an uncle who sounds very much like your grampa. Uncle John would glimpse various signs as we would drive and he would ask me how to spell words from them. Consequently, I was a spelling Bee champ at a very early age! Love your stories, memories are not unlike some of my own.

  4. I LOVE the insight, Joni! Thank you for commenting!

  5. Joni Froman

    Great story Dad! I will always remember the jello on our visits to see Gramma and Grampa in the little house on Wall Street! Great memories and I love reading about your adventures with them. I think you need to tell another story about why we children called it Camp Uncomfortable! I do remeber having lots of fun trying to touch the trees with our feet on the swings and also getting very sick from spinning around on the hand cranked Merry-Go-Round because someone would not stop it so we could get off! Ha Ha! Keep up the good work with the stories, they are great and I love reading them! Love you bunches, Joni.

  6. Cobbe

    John,

    Sweet, peaceful remembrances of people close to your heart…..
    Well done, John!