Long before credit cards were the norm, stores and shops all about Old Town would open an account with you simply on your word. A few minutes spent with the shop owner, or someone working under his or her charge, and sharing sparse information including your address and phone number if you had one, and you were golden.
I know from firsthand knowledge that folks like Jack Dougherty, a local pharmacist who operated at 370 Main St., kept all his accounts on 5 by 9 index cards. Once a month, bills would get tallied, and a handwritten statement mailed out. Shortly thereafter, customers would go in and pay what they could. Some would make arrangements to pay later, when that new job came through, or when the rent was caught up. In better than six or so years that I worked for him, I never heard him tell anyone no.
The drugstore was no anomaly. There were dozens of places on Main Street and around the busy side streets, where getting necessities simply on your word was common place. Albert Block, owner and operator of a men's clothing store, the Slatterys, proprietors of a grocery and general store, Charlie Donaldson and others did business the same way.
Mr. Donaldson and his wife, Mary, operated what was mainly a grocery store on Montgomery Street, which just happened to sell appliances. For at least a couple of generations of students who attended Laurel Elementary School, it was a convenientplace to stop before or after classes and spend money, which was intended to provide lunch, on candy and other items important to the younger set.
Charlie Donaldson was one of the good guys: Always ready to help, lending a hand or extending credit to those in need. A member for life of Laurel Volunteer Fire Department since joining in 1951, he served as both secretary and vice president. He was also a charter member of the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad and the Knights of Pythias. Sadly, he passed away Feb. 16.
The store has been closed for some time. A dry cleaner stands in its place. His home was just a short walk around the corner. It had been a good number of years since he retired. Before time took its toll, it was not unusual to find Charlie out and about, running errands, piddling around in his yard or tending to one of his rental properties. Upon meeting him, he never failed to inquire about mutual friends, family members and townsfolk he'd long been acquainted with.
The older I get, the list of people who shared a slice of earth known as Laurel, Maryland, and are now gone grows ever longer. Newcomers often ask what makes our town special. Some are drawn to its history and the architecture of the old buildings. For me, and no doubt scores of others, it is good people like Charlie Donaldson, who simply made it feel like home.