In the town where I grew up, we planned our shopping trips and errands around the odd hours that the businesses kept. The banks, stores, and offices all closed at noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but the retail stores stayed open until 9:00 p.m. on Thursday nights. That was the day to walk down the crowded sidewalks, stopping to chat with a neighbor, just being out and about.
We are often fooled by our cherished memories: childhood homes that mysteriously shrunk from the size we thought they were; candy bars we loved when we were 10 now taste like over-sweetened wax.
I have no delusions about my hometown, though. I’ve returned a few times to find a depressing business district. Although the city does keep the parks up and has added attractive street lamps, the main street is no longer the vibrant shopping hub it was before they built the mall outside of town.
When I was young, however, I couldn’t imagine ever moving away. The city was situated just south of the point where the river branched out, spreading east and west through the county, leaving natural parks and waterfalls within the city limits. If the river wasn’t too high, you could drive from park to park over a ford, the car’s tires cutting little wakes through the water that flowed across the pavement. You drove slowly to keep the brakes from getting wet, for you would need them on the steep hills at each end of the ford.
In town, the main street was lined with a lively mix of businesses anchored around a family owned department store. There was a Sears Roebuck and J. C. Penney, movie theaters, hardware stores, and restaurants.
My father liked to pay the bills in person each month. My mother wrote the checks and on Saturday morning, my father and I drove into town to make our rounds. Off we would go into the gas, electric, and telephone companies, then to the bank to pay the mortgage. I stood in line with him at each place, waiting our turn. Then, stamped receipts in hand, we walked to Sears, where my father left me downstairs while he went to the office on the third floor.
Sears was a major retailer then and I loved leafing through the thick catalogs that came in the mail. We always kept the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs under the sofa and I liked to pull them out to look at the toys, and dog houses, and admire the handsome male models.
The store didn’t carry as many items as the catalog, of course, but on the lower level, next to the appliances, was my favorite department. Ours was not a rural town but Sears sold western saddles in a department next to the appliances. There were a dozen or so of them displayed on (what else?) sturdy wooden saw horses. (more…)