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March 7, 2013

A Pop who defied his weasels

His name was Pop. At least that’s what we called him growing up in the neighborhoods of Somerville, where Armenians mixed with Jews and Greeks toughed it out with Germans.

Just Pop. Could have been shortened from Popowski, since the guy claimed to be Polish and it was a word a lot easier for us kids to manipulate.

He ran a corner variety store on my street, somewhere near our school and playground. It was the place to go for a popsicle or a candy bar treat with pennies jingling in our pockets.

One day he made the ultimate admission.

“You kids know where the popsicle came from? Yup. I invented it. Sure thing. I put some flavoring in water and stuck it in the ice box. Once it stiffened up a bit, I added a stick and presto! The popsicle appeared.”

The man was a classic. At a time when neighborhood stores would give way to larger conglomerates, Pop’s Variety held its sacred ground. It was the place to go for a loaf of bread or a pound of gossip.

Money a little tight this week? No sweat. Pop would run you a tab and you could pay in more opportune times. Money played a secondary role to kindness.

We hung out on his corner with our portable radios and basketballs. He could have given us the boot, but didn’t. He was everyone’s Pop, even those who didn’t have one.

Pop had certain rules of the house. No profanity. No fighting. Be honest and upright. And keep a clean face.

On report card day, whoever made the honor roll would be rewarded with a treat. All they had to do was show their report card to Pop and he’d honor his pledge. It was like some scene out of “West Side Story.”

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