“In the dime stores and bus stations, people talk of situations, read books, repeat quotations, draw conclusions on the wall.” ~ Bob Dylan (Love Minus Zero/No Limit, 1965)
Back in the fifties, you could score an ice cream soda for a quarter at the main street five and dime. A king-size Coke would set you back 10 cents, a slice of apple pie, 15, and a ham sandwich, a whopping 30 cents.
This marvelous place carried just about everything you’d ever want or need — lipstick and lollipops, buttons and bar soap, diapers and daydreams. And the single best thing it offered was absolutely free: cherished stories to tell ever after about who you once were, what the world was like once upon a time.
SMALL TOWN CASHEWS
by Alberto Ríos
Not Newberry’s. I loved Kress’s five and dime,
And the best thing in that store was the first counter on the left,
The popcorn machine, followed by glassed cabinets of nuts,
Mixed, separate, almonds, peanuts, candied, pistachios —
But the cashews were the ones. Warm, served in paper cones
Sodas used to come in, paper cones that fitted into holders
In the pharmacy soda fountain where I’d get a Coke
After school, waiting for my mother to get off work as a nurse,
Sitting there with my cornet in its blue case and glad
Not to be carrying it, a Coke, into which — what was her name?
Angie. The woman at the counter with the curly hair — she’d smile,
She’d get my Coke, and then she’d spill in some of the bright juice
From the maraschino cherry jar she normally used to make sundaes.
Cherry coke, she’d say, all those years ago, happy with herself
And for me: who wouldn’t love that? seemed plain enough
On her Angie face, and an invention good enough for me.
But the cashews in Kress’s: I once saw an older high school boy
Buy some for his high school girlfriend — she held them
And she smiled, looking at him, but I looked at the cashews
And never forgot, so that every time I went into Kress’s
I looked at the wooden cabinet that held the cashews
And wished the big pane of glass were not there,
That all those cashews were waiting just for me.
Go ahead, they said, every time I walked by:
What are you waiting for? Put your mouth right in.
Dive through. We’re all yours, every single one.
~ from A Small Story About the Sky (Copper Canyon Press), copyright © 2015 Alberto Ríos.
Oh yes, the good old days! I was right there with the narrator at the Kress soda fountain, and I could just about smell the popcorn and those salty roasted nuts in the wooden display case. Yum, cashews! Isn’t it wonderful how certain foods can trigger such fond memories?
We didn’t have a Kress or Woolworth in the small country town where I grew up. Ben Franklin and Cornet were our five and dimes, and I remember happily shopping at both for sewing notions as well as school and craft supplies. Perhaps it was then I first became fascinated by what other people had in their shopping carts. You can tell a lot about people by the brand of shampoo or how many pairs of socks they buy — perfect fodder for my made-up stories. 🙂
One time, my mom and I found a clown tape measure in Ben Franklin. You pulled his round fat nose to draw out the tape and I loved it so much — but he was purchased as one of the prizes for our family Christmas party. When a younger boy cousin won “my” clown, I was devastated. My mother actually went back to Ben Franklin to buy another one, but they were all gone. When she came home with a globe tape measure, I was so disappointed. It just wasn’t the same.
When we wanted to shop at Woolworth’s or Kress, it was a big deal because we had to drive downtown. Of course the best part was the chance to sit at the lunch counter atop a chair that spun around. Grilled cheese and french fries, please.
These days, I miss those five and dime experiences more than ever. It was definitely a gentler, simpler time, where innocence and civility were served up alongside your hot fudge sundae. More than a place to shop, these stores were a convenient place to meet a friend for a quick cup of coffee, a place to run into someone familiar while deciding which Simplicity pattern you were going to sew next.
According to singer-songwriter Nanci Griffith, you could also find “Love at the Five and Dime.” This is one of my favorite Nanci songs and I was lucky enough to hear her sing it live several times. Recently, I’ve been listening to it whenever I need a break from the madness, relishing the chance to escape to the dime store novel world she describes so sweetly. Let’s waltz the aisles of the five and dime. Ping! 🙂
Thanks for letting me wax nostalgic. What’s your favorite five and dime store memory?
The lovely and talented Kay McGriff is hosting the Roundup at A Journey Through the Pages. Stop by to peruse the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week!
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