Going to the Store

Sometimes I catch myself trying to remember the way to the old neighborhood store to buy candy or a popsicle. First off, the street was paved, but not really. It was really just patches on top of patches surrounded by hot Texas summer dirt.
By July, the bottoms of my feet had toughed up so the hot asphalt didn’t bother me. I turned right, which was generally north—all of the streets made a lot of slight turns so nothing was due north, south, east or west. Our next door neighbor was a nice old man, Mr. McDaniel who always had some relative living with him. Across the street was a young couple with two little kids who lived in a renovated Army barracks left over from World War II. Eventually they moved out to a nicer house in a nicer neighborhood. They didn’t talk to us much after that. The wife’s mother lived next to them in a regular house. I was kinda scared of her. I don’t know why.
Next to Mr. McDaniels were two houses, and I don’t think I ever met anyone who lived there. At the end of the block was a rambling old farm house with a wrap-around front porch and it needed a coat of paint. The woman who lived there ran the washateria where we took our clothes after my mother died.
Down the intersecting dirt road were a bunch of ramshackle old houses. My parents strictly forbade me to walk down that road because that’s where the black people. Except they didn’t say black people. They didn’t even use the word colored. They said a word I won’t use here. I know what it was. You know what it was. We all know what it was. No need to repeat it here.
We could see the shacks on that road from our backdoor. One morning I watched a black hearse parked out front of one of the houses. A group of men in black suits carried a coffin down the stairs. The people in the yard cried. It struck me that if black people cried in sorrow the same way we did when someone died, why did we have to be afraid of them? And if we weren’t afraid of them, why could I not walk down the street where they lived?
But I was trying to remember the way to the store, where the people on the dirt road could not shop. Beyond the intersection was a big vacant spot with lots of trees. Sometimes there was a tall pile of sand there, but I wasn’t allowed to play in it.
At the next intersection was another patched-over paved road leading to the bridge over Pecan Creek. We went that way when we were going to church or visit my mother’s relatives. If we kept going up the street my house was on, we got to the high school and downtown. On the other side of that intersection was the store. I hardly remember ever going in the older building. It was like all the country stores you’ve ever seen pictures of. I don’t know if it had a cracker barrel or not.
The owner became sick, and his wife panicked, marking up all the prices to pay for the doctor bills. All that did was make the neighbors get in their cars and drive north into town to shop at the fancy new supermarkets. They went out of business even faster. Eventually, he died and the widow moved away.
Someone then bought the land, rented the old building to an upholsterer and build a long, wide building which had a laundromat (I don’t know why this one was called a laundromat and the other one in town was called a washateria). On the other end of the building was a grocery with gas pumps outside. We’d call it a convenience store today.
I remember the owner had a huge selection of plastic flowers for sale in the back. It also had the best selection of candy and ice cream I’d ever seen. Of course, I was just a little barefoot boy in a small Texas town so what did I know?
They also had a bunch of knickknacks which I bought from time to time as birthday and Christmas presents for my parents. In particular I remember saving my nickels and dimes to buy a ceramic vase for my mother’s birthday. She often commented on how cute she thought it was when she came in the store. The surprise was ruined when my mother confronted me because the change in my pocket didn’t match what it should be since it was left over from my lunch allowance. So I had to tell her I was holding back some to buy her a gift. She felt bad, but she pulled the same thing when my brother put aside money from his part-time job to buy her a nice coat from a local woman’s clothing store.
I liked going to the store because there was always time to chat and tell jokes. The ladies working there were like aunts, except they were nicer than my real aunts. By the time I became a teen-ager, they had closed the store and moved to a new convenience store across the Pecan Creek bridge. They didn’t treat me as nice then, but I suppose it’s easier to like little kids than teen-agers.
So, yes. I do remember the way to the store. All the old neighbors are gone. All the stores are empty or torn down. I don’t think I’d like to walk down that street now that I’m old. I’d rather remember the days when I scampered barefoot without a care but with a coin to buy candy.

One thought on “Going to the Store

  1. Anne Buckingham

    Wonderful story of childhood innocence. (well, sort of… we know the word the folks used for “those” people, sad times). Thank you for sharing this story.


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