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The Tuck Shop

by M.D. Skelton

Varsity Tuck Shop would not rank high from the point of view of an architect, but from the point of view of anyone who has found there the young laughter and bright faces for which he has hungered, there is no building, whatever its magnificence, that is half as fine as the long, low shop named many years ago "Varsity Tuck." To the latter, it is not a mere inanimate object, but a personality in its own right. Despite the many years (or perhaps because of them) that the little shop has fed youthful appetites, one could not call it old. Restless fingers have scraped patches of paint of some of the tables, leaving the shape of a beer mug, the profile of a girl's face, or perhaps the outline of a cannon. If one looks closely, he may find heart-enclosed initials in some inconspicuous corner of the table or table-leg. Such mutilations are not, however, a sign of age, for the possibilities of a bobby pin or penknife do not present, to the elderly person, the same allure that they present to youth. Nor if a chair gives way under someone and deposits him with a crash on the floor amid shouts of laughter from all sides, is that a sign that the chair is old. Rather it is one of the practical jokes that the Tuck Shop plays on her young visitors, for Tuck can give and take with the best of them. She is as old as the youngest Freshman and as young as the oldest Senior.

The Tuck Shop has a deep understanding and sympathy for the youngsters who have always crowded her rooms, and if they sit for three hours with a nickel glass of chocolate milk in front of them, Tuck doesn't mind. Or if they take magazines from her racks and, having read them, leave them sticky and mussed on the tables, it doesn't matter. Neither does she raise a great fuss if, in the heat of an argument, someone shoves an elbow through one of her windows. There seems to be just one thing to which Tuck objects, and that is when one's pup chases the Tuck Shop kitten wildly around the room, over the tables and between legs, to corner her at last on top of the fountain, from which point she spits her regards at the pup, and the pup voices his conclusions vociferously.

Tuck is a builder of morale. On cold, windy autumn days, after army drill, the shop is a favorite spot. To sit in front of the radiant, drinking hot coffee and mimicking the instructors or the Regimental Sergeant-Major, is a joy that can only fully be appreciated by a foot-sore, frozen-eared, tongue-lashed Auxiliary Battalion. And in the evening, study-weary students congregate in friendly Tuck for a "pick-me-up" before they crawl home to bed. The Airmen find a haven in Tuck, too, in the evenings. At first it was a little hard to share "our shop" with anyone else, but now the Airmen feel almost as much at home there as do the students, and the same peaceful, happy atmosphere pervades the rooms now as pervaded them before the war.

But Tuck is happiest around 10 o'clock in the morning. At that time, every available corner is occupied, the air is blue with smoke, the Wurlitzer blares forth the latest swing, and the machine-gun game at the far end of the room is rat-a-tat-tatting almost without interruption. It is now that the Second Great War, the hottest "jive", the coming rugby game, or just the ordinary, plain daily gossip undergo the most thorough discussions, over Cokes or doughnuts. Often two or three tables are joined together so that from fifteen to twenty people can sit about them. At these tables there are, at times, as many as ten different conversations all going on at the same time. It puts a song in my heart to see Tuck like this.

In summer, the ivy grows so thickly around the windows that, were it not for the last rays of the setting sun streaming in, the interior would be in darkness long before daylight had departed. Beside the windows, from the tables, one can watch the "rest of the world go by," for Tuck is a world set apart. Children too young to go to school play or quarrel on the sidewalk, some of them on roller-skates, others on tricycles, and still others taking turns pulling each other in a wagon. If one is in Tuck around 9 o'clock in the morning, one will see an old gentleman with snow-white hair and kindly blue eyes, pass. A small, pigtailed girl clings to each of his blue-veined hands. They always look in through the windows of Tuck as they pass, and the little girls wave and the old man smiles when they see anyone. Women pass carrying shopping baskets and return with the baskets laden. Every ten or fifteen minutes the old school bus passes. I think Tuck and the old bus must be friends; they have so much in common. Often I listen intently for a greeting exchanged between the two, but I have never yet caught it. Sometimes students amble past in twos or threes, warm in the sunlight and content in companionship. At other times they hurry by, intent on getting home for dinner and back again in an hour. How short is an hour at noon-time!

What a carefree, joyous story Tuck could write! What a heart-warming account of young hearts and young hopes! Oh, Tuck belongs to college days, and when they are over, Tuck is not the same – not because Tuck has changed, but because we change. I am sure it is the hope of all those who have really known and loved the Tuck Shop that, many years from now, Tuck will still be filled with noise and laughter; that she will still be encouraging the pursuit of happiness.

Published January 1943.

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