Edwin "Pop" Bay's older brother, Hans, moved
west from Michigan in 1908 and started a grocery store in Corvallis, and
two years later, 17 year-old Ed joined his brother in the business. Since
then, Bay's Market has burned down twice, changed locations and been sold.
But, after 70 years, Pop is still a fixture in the store.
Pop recently turned 87 years old and cut his working
days to afternoons, but he still moves about the aisles of Bay's Market with
tireless energy and a familiar twinkle in his eye.
The first time I shopped at Bays was 12 years ago,
shortly after I moved from issoula to the Bitter Root valley. After ringing
up my groceries, Pop gave me back my change rounded up to the nickel. When
I commented that he'd given me too much, he said "Keep it, whatill you do
with pennies?" Then he threw in two ballpoint pens and a package of black
licorice for good measure.
Pop is ageless. He's changed his green apron for
a gold cotton blazer, but aside from that, he looks the same as he did a
decade ago. "The only problems is my eyesight; I can't see much anymore.
Everything else is perfect." he told me when I recently interviewd
him in the store's meat department. It was a few days before Pop's March
24 birthday, and he was excited about the big birthday party that was going
to take place in the store. Pop's birthday party is a tradition that has
been carried on by Don Tice since he bought the store from Pop's son, Vance,
two years ago.
Whne I asked Pop if woking keeps him young, he replied,
"Absolutely. I'll tell the world it does." H flashed me his trademark grin,
nodded his head vigorously, then added, "That and the 15 vitamin pills a
day my chiropractor has me on. Isn't that something? I used to take a few,
but last month he put me on 15. I don't eat enough meat, so I need them.
Yessirree, tyhey keep me healthy."
Pop was born in Lewiston, Michigan, the son of Danish
parents. "My father, Rasmus, changed the name from Bey to Bay when he came
to this country - I don't know why, and I don't know why it's such a short
name when most Danes have long names. Now I named my oldest son, Rasmus,
but he prefers Robert. Rasmus is Danish for Robert, so it's all the same."
Young Ed Bay grew up in Johannesburg, Michigan,
a town Pop said was named after his mother, Johanna. Johanna;s brother, Rasmus
Hansen, owned a big sawmill that Pop said kept the town going. When I asked
Pop if his father worked in the sawmill, he replied, "Nope, he ran a grocery
store, had seven clerks working for him."
Shortly after Pop moved to Montana, he was joined
by his parents and a younger brother, and his jolly, robust father was soon
working in the Bay Brothers General Merchandise Store. Sadly, Pop's younger
brother died after an ilness at age 19.
Some of Pop's most vivid childhood memories are
about trips to Denmark. His tall, statelyy mother took her three young sons
home for numerous visits, a formidable journey in the early 1900's. "I remember,
she dressed us up in little sailor suits," Pop grinned. He said the ocean
journey took 12 days, "like a slow boat to China." During each visit, the
mother and sons stayed a month in Denmark, visiting relatives and indulging
in five meals a day. "Five small meals, that's the way they eat. It's good
- that's the way Bob and I started to eat, rather than stuffing at one meal."
Pop and his bachelor son, Bob, live together in
the house Pop moved to with his bride. After graduating from a Michigan highschool,
Pop said he followed his mother's wishes and attended a church college for
a year, and then he followed Hans to Montana. He said he made the journey
with another Dane, Lars Christofferson.
"Hans had cut down trees where the fire hall is
now (in Corvallis) to build his store. I was 17 when I came out, and I started
working in the store with Hans," he said. In those days, grocers used wagons
for much of their work and about eight years ago, I wrote a story about Pop
that featured a wooden Studebaker farm wagon. The vintage wagon, stamped
"Made for Bay Brothers," was sold to a Corvallis farmer, John Hawker, in
1928 and was owned by the Martins of Corvallis when I wrote the story. Pop
recalled that some of the Bay Brothers wagons were outfitted with tin stoves
and lap robes and were used to haul kids to school.
Pop married a Montana native, Lillian Hedges, a
local schoolteacher, and honored her by naming his two black cayuses, small
western horses, after her. Thoughts of those horses made Pop chuckle.
"The railroad delivered goods at Woodside (three
miles west of Corvallis), and I'd get them in a surrey with my two black
horses. I'd go way up in the hills and deliver stuff, and the horses would
sometimes get away from me. Groceries would fly. Why, one time a whole bunch
of lard was scattered all over the territory."
Selling methods have changed since horse and buggy
days. Back then, the store would barter for produce, trading groceries with
local farmers. And prices have changed. Pop remembers when a pair of shoes
could be purchased for a $1.50. He said the store handled everthing from
corsets to fence posts. And, in those days people didn't have much money
and everything was charged.
"I'd send the statements out. I went to Spokane
for awhile to a business school so I could learn bookkeeping," he said. That
stint in Spokane was the only time away from the grocery business Pop has
had since 1910. "Yup, times have changed," Pop said, and then he added good
naturedly, "But people haven't changed much. Nope, people are all right."
Pop flicked the ash from his cigarette and reached
into his pants pocket. "I got something here I want to show you," he said,
as he opened his wallet and, with a flourish, took out a folded piece of
paper. "Here, take a look at this. Bob printed it out nice like this for
me," Pop said proudly. On half of the paper was printed Pop's wife's name
with the dates 1892-1974, and on the other half was Pop's name with 1892
and a blank space. Undeneath was nicely lettered, "They Loved People."
"Ah, it's your eiptaph," I said. "Yup, what'd I
tell you? I love people and so did my wife, so it's right there on our tombstone,"
Pop said with a big grin.
Pop and his wife had two sons, Bob and Vance, both
of Corvallis. Vance owns Bays Hardware in Corvallis. Pop has four granddaughters
and one greatgrandson.
April 2, 1979