Mom and Pop's Lingerie Shop
Evelyn and Leroy Walker opened “Mom and Pop’s Lingerie Shop” back when the Buckshoe, Tennessee General Electric closed down in 1995. Both the Walker's sons were moved out and self-supporting, and even though the Walkers had a little goose egg saved up, it wasn’t enough to carry them through retirement.
Wal-Mart and the Food Lion weren’t hiring that year, which they decided was probably a blessing in disguise, because ever since their twenties, Evelyn and Leroy had talked about taking some sort of wild, entrepreneurial leap together.
"Dave Thomas had to flip that first burger," said Leroy one morning over his breakfast coffee, while Evelyn unwound her foam curlers and nodded her head up and down like she was listening to Reverend Sherwood unpack the second book of Timothy.
The Walkers pulled out the telephone book to take an assessment of the businesses serving greater Marlin County, and after a couple hours of scratching out ideas written on a manila legal pad, realized that while there were plenty of quick marts, and feed stores, and even a new ice cream shop down by the video rental place on Main, there was not a single place in Buckshoe to buy fine, feminine underthings.
The Long John Silvers on the bypass had just moved down near the Rivertree Commons, so Evelyn and Leroy rented that building out, tore out some of the walls, and painted it bubblegum pink with cherry trim inside and out.
Leroy had always been good at math, so he kept the books. Evelyn had an artistic flair, so she was the buyer. After spending hours pouring through supply catalogues full of French lace and satin, she chose an inventory that she liked to describe as "tasteful but daring."
She divided the store into two sections, the left side for pretty young wives and brides-to-be, and the right side for mature women. Then she and Leroy put a marquee out front by the road: "ASK US ABOUT OUR MONTHLY SPECIAL" on one side, and "20% OFF FOR FIRST TIME CUSTOMERS" on the other.
Marlin County only had about 7,000 people, which meant just about everybody knew just about everybody else. So of course it was a little bit awkward those first few weeks when husbands would nudge their wives as they were driving to the Dairy Queen and pass Mom and Pop's Lingerie Shop and say, "That's Millie Yontz's car pulled in right there."
A wife knew this meant Millie's husband, Frank, had a wife who bought French lingerie, which also meant that when your own husband was going to bed with a wife who wore Tweety Bird gowns from the Dollar Store...
So one by one, the women of Buckshoe dropped by to see what Mom and Pop had to offer. Besides, there was a growing respect for the financial risk the Walker's had taken, and maybe a little bit of community pride to have the first shop devoted to lingerie in maybe a hundred and fifty miles.
Mrs. Margaret Atkins, who spend summers in Paris when she was in her twenties, said she never thought she'd see the day when Buckshoe had honest-to-goodness amenities, and this got passed around as sort of a blessing on the whole endeavor.
Once you got in the door, Evelyn had one of those belly laughs that helped you forget that Leroy was running the cash register, and to his credit, he had a way of sliding whatever you bought into a bag full of tissue paper before scanning the tag. He did that while asking about your garden or your nephew, so you felt like he hadn't even noticed what you were buying. It might as well have been a sack of fertilizer.
Like Dante's Beatrice, Evelyn guided the women of Buckshoe through hanging racks full of undergarments at such ease that even the ladies from the Fidelis class at First Baptist church would relax their shoulders and giggle.
And because Evelyn ordered what she though would flatter women all the way down to size 0 (for Tess Carter, who was flat chested as she could be and had never weighed more than 85 as long as anybody who'd known her could remember) up through whatever size would fit sweet old Gerry Frost, every woman who visited left feeling prettier than she did when she showed up. And the married men of Buckshoe smiled a little more often.
Everything changed over the next few years. The Internet got up and going, and the women of Buckshoe, one by one, got exposed to all fifty shades of what people do out there in the wild, wild world. And the men of Buckshoe first curious, then caught, then owned by the click of a few buttons, grew more impatient and demanding.
Groups of high school girls would cut straight back to the clearance rack, never looking Evelyn in the eyes. They would laugh from the dressing rooms, making jokes their mommas wouldn't have wanted them to make, and then leave without hanging anything back up on the hangers.
And Evelyn started to get supply catalogues in the mail, advertisements that left a lonely, sad feeling in the pit of her stomach, because she could see that sweetness and generosity were dying, and that something frantic and greedy was taking their place.
Married women never giggled when they shopped any more; their eyes never lit up. They just looked strained and tired, and they carried their bags out the door with shoulders that said they weren't hoping for much.
Sometimes Evelyn would look over at Leroy as they were locking up the front door for the evening, and she would sigh and say, "You wouldn't believe what somebody asked me for today. And you wouldn't believe who asked."
Leroy would slide what he didn't know across the counter of his curiosity and put it away without further inquiry. Then he'd kiss Evelyn on her soft, wrinkled cheek, and tell her how pretty she was, and ask her if he could buy her an ice cream from the McDonalds on their drive home.