Unfortunately, none of you will be able to visit Betty Brown’s, which was located at the corner of Sophia Street and William Street in the Fredericksburg of my youth (mid- to late-sixties). Mrs. Brown is dead and the place has been taken over by an antique store. But, oh, the memories…
Mrs. Brown had lead a life that would have tried the patience of Job. Her husband had died during a family picnic (the Rapphannock River runs through F’urg), her twins (girl/boy) had been hit and killed by a drunk driver after they got off the school bus, and her oldest daughter had run off to find herself, thinking that the best place to look was in South America and Africa (more on this latter). Mrs. Brown was also a hunchback, about 4’6" tall at the top of her shoulder (which was damn near higher than her head).
My grandmother lived around the corner from BettyBrown’s (you had to say it fast - it was practically all one word) and went there to get Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Pall Mall cigarettes. Mrs. Brown also sold newspapers, sodas, some groceries, fresh seafood (she cooked crabs in the summer and I’ve eaten many, many bushells that she’s pulled right off the cooker), and, word was, Mrs. Brown made book some and you could play the numbers if you were so inclined. The best thing about the place, though, was the stuff that wasn’t for sale.
Ms. Brown’s daughter had disappeared, only to show up ever now and then again after having been to some strange part of the globe or another. She always brought stuff back with her, and Mrs. Brown’s store was full of tribal art, spears, bow and arrow sets, drums, furntiure, etc. from South American and Africa. I distinctly remember a portrait of JFK that looked exactly like what JFK would have looked like had he been black and dressed like a Masai herdsman. The best things, though, were the shrunken heads and shrunken bodies that had come from Ecuador.
In a little glass case, near the back, were 5 shrunken heads and two mumified, little shrunken bodies. They were leathery looking, with straight black hair, and I remember that their mouths were sewn shut. I can still hear Mrs. Brown telling people the directions to the bathroom - “Go toward the back, turn left at the shrunken heads, an go in the first door on the left.”