Three of Seven
3of5.JPG

This picture was taken while I was number 3 of 5. Two brothers were still in the planning stages. The good news is that we have outgrown all of the clothes in the picture. These stories are about the mischief and memories that 9 people can create on their journey.

The Thrift Shop

Three is the theme here; three brothers, three sisters and I was the third of seven. The seven of us are products of life in the “cold war” era of the 50's and 60's, but we are much more products of life in a large family. My older sister learned patience from being the first to have responsibility to help look after the younger ones, but it was not a lesson that she took to any level of enthusiasm. She had to find ways to entertain herself in the midst of being patient.

She was the one who would leave any restaurant where the family stopped for a meal with a spoon or a fork. She was the one who would carefully shred her napkin in quarter inch wide strips to be left in a water glass while waiting for the everyone to finish. She was also the one who taught us all how to take a full glass of water and invert it on the table just before we left. She was also the inventive one who would create little bits of mischief. My mother has lived in the same house for over 50 years and in that time she has had two phone numbers. It is likely that without my sisters impish impulses, that phone number would not have changed the entire time.

This story begins with a typo, a simple missed keystroke in the Department of Defense telephone directory. Life in the Washington, DC area includes a lot of phone numbers for the DoD. Their phone directory used to be as large as many cities and towns, not enough to help a four year old reach the dining room table, but still a substantial volume. The typo listed our home phone number as the number for the Thrift Shop on the base at Fort Myer. If this typo had listed an individual instead of a business, again there would be no story to tell, but judging by the number of calls that started coming to our house, there were a lot of people who wanted to get in touch with the Thrift Shop.

At first, all of us just did the polite, “Sorry, wrong number” and went on our way until the day that my sister got the call from someone who had difficulty accepting no for an answer. I only heard one side of the conversation, but it still explained the situation and set my sister's mind turning.

Hello.

No, this is not the Fort Myer Thrift Shop. Didn't you call a minute ago?

What number are you dialing?

The number listed in the Department of Defense Directory. Well, the directory must be wrong because this is our phone number. Is there someone else you can call?

No, it is not a party line.

Well, maybe the Pentagon did make a mistake. Why don't you call them?

My parents called the phone company for help. Today, aided by touch tone phones and computer generated voices, this would be simple to solve, but we lived in a world of rotary dials and mechanical switching systems. Mother Bell (there was only the phone monopoly then) did not feel that they could be responsible for a mistake made in someone else's directory and offered only to change the phone number. My parents decided that the few wrong numbers until the new DoD directory came out would be worth keeping their phone number of 10 years. That choice led to a number of interesting phone calls as my sister was entering her high school dating years and was always the first to answer the phone in hopes that it was for her.

Hello

Yes, this is the Thrift Shop.

Of course. We are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:45 until 6:12.

Thank you for calling.

Hello. Yes this is the Thrift Shop.

No we do not have any of those but let me tell you about our weekly specials. Baskets!

Hello, Thrift Shop.

Dresses for little girls? Yes we have several yellow sun dresses.

I never knew where all this stuff came from, but my sister could carry on a perfectly rational conversation with these callers out of the clear blue. I can only imagine the conversations that took place at the store when shoppers told of the helpful young woman they had spoken to on the phone promising something that was just not available.

I have no idea if the Thrift Shop finally called my parents to ask for their help or if the Pentagon decided that they needed some defense against Virginia teenagers, but eventually, we got a new phone number, and touch tone phones! I might have been tempted to say that all I remember of this is that my sister was always an example of applying patience with a sense of humor and creativity, but another of my sisters is now using that old phone number as the password for one of her internet accounts. When I saw that number, this whole story came back, including my sister's wisdom of making patience easier with a smile.

Editorial Assistance

The difficulty of a large family has been freshly demonstrated by this addition to Story Chip. I have received a call from my sister who is sure that the opening text is incorrect. She distinctly remembers that in her family, she grew up with four brothers and only two sisters. She wonders if we are truly related.

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