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Dee Wait (Dr. J. Dan Schuma…): I think this was the hospital my aunt worked at. Her name was Emma Wait (she died in 1981). I remem…
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The Nature of the Drug Store, Now and In the 1930s

Monday 23 October 2017 at 12:04 am.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 19, 2017, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Have drug stores really changed that much over the years? Yes and no.

            Believe it or not, we had a drug store in Dime Box in the 1930’s and 1940’s, even though the town had no doctor and the drug store had neither a pharmacist nor a pharmacy. Yet, Noah Albers’ Drug Store, as it was called, had all the rudiments of a real drug store.

            In it, you could find every across-the-counter medicine available at the time, such as Baby Percy and Castor Oil. You could purchase an array of gauze, tape, and other bandage accessories, not to mention rubbing alcohol, iodine, “monkey blood,” and an assortment of salves, creams, and ointments.

            The affinity our Dime Box drug store had with “real” drug stores, like the one in Giddings, was countertops overflowing with hair oil, cologne, shaving soap, shampoo, etc., along with gift items. Mr. Albers even served ice cream, two dips on a cone for a nickel, which was an attempt to imitate Pratt’s Drug Store in Giddings, which had a soda fountain and five or six soda parlor chairs and tables where you could enjoy your ice cream soda or a banana split (if you could afford it). Conveniently located next door to the movie theater, Pratt’s was the “in” place to go after a movie.

            Since Dime Box had only a traveling tent show, the best you could do there was to buy a snow cone sold in front of the tent after the movie. Noah Albers’ Drug Store had ice cream but no ice cream parlor.

            Savon Drugs in East Bernard has gone through several ownerships since I have lived here, and while the store changed locations once, it hasn’t changed its nature very much. Pharmacy. Toiletries. School supplies. Across-the-counter meds. Gifts. It seems the gift section expanded each time the ownership changed. This is not unlike other American drug stores in the 20th and 21st centuries, except some, like CVS and Walgreens, seem to be more like Wal-Mart.

            But what was the drug store business like in East Bernard in the 1930’s, before the first Savon came to town? From past interviews in researching the history of our town, I learned that it was in the form of Seydler’s Drug Store, located in the old SPJST Hall across the street from the old bank building.

            It was owned by Henry Seydler, Jim Daniels’ grandfather, and like most drug stores in that era, it had a first-rate ice cream parlor. Henry had four daughters, Lillian, Gayle, Dorothy and Mary Ann, and one son, Richard, and his children helped him in the drug store. Jim’s mother Mary Ann told me years ago that she worked as a soda jerk for her father, while her sister Lillian actually made the ice cream. This homemade ice cream looked a little like the ice cream you get from Dairy Queen today, but it was much more gourmet. Henry even made and sold his own vanilla extract, which he made from vanilla beans, and which Lillian used in flavoring the ice cream. Like Noah Albers in Dime Box in the same era, the Seydlers also sold a cone with two dips for a nickel.

            Henry Seydler was a registered pharmacist, and later his daughter Lillian also became a pharmacist, being able to work as an apprentice under her father.

            No criticism meant of our current pharmacists at Savon today, in Henry’s day, the pharmacist usually had to grind a granulated form of the medication into a fine powder, and then mix it with another powder, which also had to be ground. While doing this, Henry or Lillian had to be absolutely certain that the measurements were exact. Powders had to be folded into 3” x 3” pieces of paper, a task that was not easy and had to be learned. Today, our prescription meds come in premade tablets, capsules, or gel caps.

            There were no delicious-tasting liquids for children’s medicines, and most of the elixirs were rather foul-tasting. Pouring them on sugar helped the child to take them without gagging. In those days medicines were sold in glass bottles, firmly corked with a cork press. No plastic vessels with child-proof caps which even adults can’t open (like we have today)! You could take a cork that was too large for the mouth of the bottle, “roll” it and press it in so that it would fit snugly.

            Like Noah Albers in Dime Box, Henry Seydler sold toiletries and cosmetics. His daughters told me once in an interview that they still remembered some of the names of the cosmetics. There were such items as “Tangy Lipstick,” “Djer Kiss Talcum Powder,” and “Mavis Powder” in a big red can. Mary Ann told me the exciting thing about “Tangy Lipstick” was that although it came in one shade for everybody, when you put it on your lips, it would change color, a different hue for each person.

            I like to think that those were the good old days, until I stop and remember, for example, that when I was a kid, penicillin had not been discovered yet, and infections were very difficult to cure. And how long would your prescriptions take if the pharmacist had to grind up all the powders to fill it? But it’s fun to remember.

-0-

Ray Spitzenberger is a free lance writer and artist who lives in East Bernard with his beautiful wife Peggy and spoiled cat Gatsby.

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