There wasn’t a prouder boy in all Steubenville when I gave mother that hat pin

Posted by | December 1, 2011

As long as I can remember there has been a Spies Jewelry Store in Steubenville, OH. The one I am thinking of now was on Market Street across from Beall & Steele’s Drug Store. Spies was not ordinarily important to a boy, since it sold only a lot of worthless stuff like solid gold breast pins, shiny diamonds and jeweled combs.

Came a Christmas when I was in the money and I decided to go all out and buy mother a really fancy present instead of giving her one of those fat old pin cushions we made in school, or a button hook with genuine pearl handle for 10 cents from Billy Beerbowers.

By “in the money” I mean I had 75 cents to blow in on mother. The word “Spies” came to mind. In my family it was a solid gold word, denoting the very best. With nose pressed to glass, I appraised the costly wares in the window. Inside, everything was very dignified and quiet, like in church, as fine ladies and gentlemen fingered the watches and brooches.

My head scarcely came to the counter top, but finally Mr. Spies saw me. He was a pudgy little man, and I can still see his disembodied head peering at me thru heavy spectacles. My eye had singled out a tray of hat pins in the window. It was brought out. Some of the hat pins were modestly jeweled with tiny seed pearls, a few with fine filigree work, others plain ovals waiting to be monogrammed.

But one alone took my eye-it boasted a magnificent blazing ruby, as big as a robin’s egg, set in a fancy frame. I was sure it was absolutely genuine. Spies never sold imitations, did they? I asked the price. $1.25. The tag was old and shopworn.

I gazed longingly at the hat pin as Mr. Spies momentarily waited, then he said, “You chuss keep on looking, son, I’ll be back”. Customers came and went. The minutes melted into almost an hour, when the proprietor no doubt began to think about his supper. I told him I wanted this pin but had only 75 cents to pay for it. He suggested cheaper ones, but I said, “I want this very one. It’s for my mother and she won’t think it’s good unless it comes from your store.”

Mr. Spies glowed. He lived for words like that since he was proud of his reputation. His daughter and helper (Miss Lulu or Miss Marie) saw me and whispered to her father. He came around in front of the counter, and saw all of me for the first time.

“You Chimmie Mosel’s boy, yes?” he asked.

“Yes sir, but how about the pin?”

“Vell, I tell you vhat. You chuss give me the 75 cents and take the hat pin. Here, I put it in a fine box for you with my name on it.”

There wasn’t a prouder boy in all Steubenville when I gave mother that hat pin with the blazing ruby on top. She wore it many times, mostly at night, to visit my grandmother or Aunt Emma Ewing, but never to church where there were very many people around.

It never occurred to me to wonder why.

Under the Buckeye Trees, by George A. Mosel, publ. Hamilton I. Newell Inc., Amherst, Mass., 1962

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