Monday, July 05, 2010

MAGPIE TALES: Has Anyone Seen Miss Novotny?

(Our contribution to this week's Magpie Tales. Check out the others here.)

Uncle Van and Aunt Kip opened their little shop on Hudiburg Way in Alder Village right after the war, long before the city had expanded its westward expanse and there was nothing there but random bungalows, an A&P and an Methodist Episcopal Church North and tiny Lutheran chapel. Uncle Van was adamant from the start that it be called be called Kip and Van Upholstery and Windows since he claimed she was the brains behind the operation.

It was Uncle Van who came up with the slogans that make me cringe today but at the time I thought were the embodiment of wit. "The Blind Man Is Driving This Car" was hand lettered on their delivery truck that listed every type of blind and shade they could provide. Their newspaper ads often featured Aunt Kip in a very prim, high-necked dress holding a parasol beneath the china berry tree in their front yard with the caption, "Come see the shady lady when you want to bring new style to your windows."

"Old world craftsmanship with tomorrow's design," they boasted. I remember Mrs. Reilly and Miss Novotny, both of whom came from the old world and did much of the upholstery work and shade design. I remember seeing them glare down at me from the attic room of Uncle Van and Aunt Kip's house which adjoined the shop which faced north on Hudiburg Way towards the old saw mill. Why did they look at me with such intent interest as I played in the sand box that an old Allis Chambers tractor tire filled with sand.

My mother said it was probably because neither of them had children. Mrs. Reilly did have a son that died in an air raid during the war. I had seen her smile once or twice, and once she actually offered me a cookie that she had made from scratch, but I remember it being bitter and heavy on ginger and light on any sugar.

It was Mrs. Novotny who bothered me the most with a white streak of color that swept through the middle of her dark brown hair, her eyebrows heavy as if they had been cut from felt and glued on. She wore heavy soled shoes to compensate for her club foot and always had breath that smelled like molding cabbage. Mother said that I should be kind to her since women like Miss Novotny will face a bitter fate in old age.

We lost track of the two women once the business was sold and Aunt Kip and Uncle Van took to selling Herbalife and Mary K products. Some nights I have a flash of Miss Novotny's expressionless face as she glared down at me from the attic room, sewing furiously while looking at me instead of her handwork until a needle prick brought her attention back to the task at hand. There was something in those locked, silent gazes that we shared that refuses to leave me, and today it is left to my imagination to figure how Miss Novotny whiled away her remaining days once she left Kip and Van's.

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At 6:01 PM, Blogger Tumblewords: said...

One would keep looking over his shoulder, I'd guess, once Miss Novotny went missing. Nice tale!


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