Dropping in on Ricki’s Rants and Rambles, I noticed that in her Memorial Day post, she said:
We wore our uniforms, most of us got to carry small flags, and, as part of the traditional flag etiquette (or at least, that’s what the troop leader told us), we needed to get white gloves to wear. I still remember going to the little local department store – yes, such things still existed when I was a kid – with my mom and buying a pair.
When I read that bit, I was reminded of the little local department stores of my own childhood. Admittedly, they were chain stores even by then — I only remember one independent “five-and-dime”, one suburb over from my own, but I do remember the Ben Franklin store about three-quarters of a mile from my house. I think I bought my first “real” (i.e., non-Disney) album there, and I bought some singles there as well.
Because I was an unusual kid, I knew even then that these places felt kind of dated — Nashville was beginning to sprout malls, and I figured that would take a toll on the Ben Franklins and Roses Stores where my grandparents would take me. Other local chains, like Cain-Sloan and Castner Knott (which were absorbed into Dillard’s and Macy’s, respectively) were places I saw more as adult territory, places I’d go only to get school clothes or have the occasional breakfast with Santa.
And although Wallace Stevens probably never intended “Death is the mother of beauty” to apply to lower-echelon retailers, living through the disappearance of these places has bred in me a strange delight when I still find such a place. One of the cooler moments of my adolescence was when I attended Western Kentucky University the summer before my senior year of high school. It was a wonderful summer for many reasons, but one was that, as I walked around Bowling Green, KY one Saturday morning, I found the “downtown” Woolworth’s, wandered in, and discovered that it had a soda fountain/grille. I hadn’t been to such a place since my grandmother had worked at an old-school drugstore in Nashville. I sat down at the counter, ordered a chocolate ice cream soda, and felt like I was in a Ray Bradbury story, or some strange sequel to “Jeffty Is Five“. When I wrote to my parents about it, I remember telling them that the only thing that kept it from being 1962 (or 52, or 42…) was the toy department immediately behind me. But if I looked straight ahead or to my left or right, I could sustain the illusion.
Likewise, I’ll always have fond memories of a different Woolworth’s luncheonette, this one in Lexington, KY, where I went a few times with a girlfriend in the late 80s. At this one, we sat in a booth, doing the two-straws-in-one-soda bit. Doo-wop.
And I think that’s one of the things I love about Mondoville — we still have such a store, even without a lunch counter or record section. I go there occasionally, and although it isn’t really the same, if I squint my eyes a little, and my mind a little more, I can see my younger self, looking hungrily at the toys before being dragged off to someplace with a Husky section. And that’s pretty cool.