love and cashews at the five and dime

“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.

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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.

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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?

 

Kress Store, Forth Worth, TX (1957). Popcorn machine and nut bin lower right.

 

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.

 

Wow!

 

 

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! 🙂

 

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Thanks for letting me wax nostalgic. What’s your favorite five and dime store memory?

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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!


Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

58 thoughts on “love and cashews at the five and dime

    1. How nice to have such stories passed down, Linda. I imagine it was a lot of hard work owning a drug store with a soda bar in it. I can picture kids loving it when they walked in.

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  1. loved the “dimestores” as we called them in our town: G. C. Murphy and Woolworth’s…and across the street from Murphy’s, we had a blind man who sold popcorn and candy in his tiny little corner shop that was about the size of a closet. Gentler days, I think. Thanks, Jama, for taking me back for a little visit to my home town!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never been to a G.C. Murphy’s. Thanks for sharing about the man who had that tiny corner shop. Those are definitely the kinds of memories we cherish from our younger days. Up the street from our house was a family-owned shop called B-Sweet. They sold candy, preserved fruits (“seed” as we call it in Hawaii), some school supplies, ice cream, etc. It was a favorite place to stop on the way home from school. I favored orange sherbet in a cup and pistachio nuts. 🙂

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  2. Ham and cheese for 30 cents?? Outrageous! Wow, how time has changed. We had Woolworth’s and Ben Franklin, and I’m glad that Ben Franklin stores – while few – are still around. Love this post, Jama – cashews are one of my top 2 nuts, right up there with pistachios. Nothin’ else compares. I do love Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, and pecans, too…but almonds can kiss my gluteus. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL. What do you have against almonds!? I mean, think of the calcium. And without almonds, no marzipan or macarons! I hear you on the cashew and pistachio love, though. Thank goodness nuts are a healthy food.

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  3. I liked the tiny turtles at our local Woolworth’s. The turtles lived in small round plastic terrariums with spiral ramps. I don’t remember lids on the terrariums, but they must have been there.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. O! does this bring back memories. I wrote a poem about Woolworth’s in BEEN TO YESTERDAYS: POEMS OF A LIFE (Boyds Mills Press) where my mother worked and where I spent many hours at the store in Newark, NJ. The 5&10 is also a setting in my first novel, MAMA.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We sometimes got to go to the bigger town 12 miles away & there to my dime store, Mattingly’s, where I would be allowed to choose different “goodies” & then sit at that wonderful counter for a chocolate coke. Wow, I love that pic of the LA counter! I remember a special spiral notebook, yellow with red flowers. Your post sure brought the memories, Jama! I also loved it when they opened the upper floor at Christmas, filled with gifts & toys & sometimes, Santa! Special places! My own children went to Ben Franklin stores in Denver! Thanks for every bit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is the first I’m hearing of Mattingly’s, so thanks for mentioning it, Linda. Sounds like a fabulous place, especially around Christmas time. 🙂 Chocolate coke? Now I’m jealous (never had one).

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Our Woolworth’s lunch counter sold banana splits for 39 cents, but they would often have balloons on sticks hanging over the counter. You would pick a balloon and pop it and inside was a piece of paper with a price from FREE to 39 cents and that’s what you paid for your banana split. Usually 39 cents was out of my price range so I’d stick to a nickel Coke or a 12 cent root beer float. Those were the days!

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    1. What a fantastic memory, Pat. Love the idea of those balloons (never saw anything like that in the Woolworths I visited). I do love root beer floats — and 12 cents sounds like a bargain to me.

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  7. Jama, we had a Ben Franklin too. We could always talk our Mom into letting us pick something — a Matchbox car, a little craft, because they were so inexpensive.

    This poem is wonderful. I use Sandra Cisneros’ “Good Hotdogs” as a food poem model. These cashews would make a great companion to that poem.

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  8. My copywriting job was located on a windowless floor just above the Woolworth store, where there was a counter. I remember buying jelly beans and playing Easter Bunny with them, hiding them in my colleagues’ typewriters.

    There was an old photo of a colleague sitting at the lunch counter, looking disheveled, with his hair flopping in his eyes. I wrote a caption for it and tacked it to his corkboard: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, you walked into mine.” Fun times!

    The building was old and decrepit and was demolished years ago, replaced by a hotel/condo with an infamous brand name that people demanded removed. Some windows fell out at one point. I can’t help but think location is haunted by our old Woolworth building.

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    1. Hah — fun memory, thanks for sharing. I like hearing about your mischievous side, hiding jelly beans in typewriters. That’s something I would do too. 😀 The Woolworth building haunting that location would make a good mystery story. I can picture sales clerk ghosts wandering around the hotel . . .

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  9. I could smell those cashews, too! There was a Woolworth’s and a Kresge’s (relate to Kress? probably google knows) in downtown Springfield. In sixth grade we were old enough to take the bus downtown and haunt the five and dimes and the bookstore, with it’s cavernous back building of used books and colorful posters. Thanks for taking me back!

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  10. We didn’t have a Woolworth’s either, but we had a store called “Jupiter.” Funny thing is that I went to my first Woolworth’s while living in Berlin in 2004! They didn’t have a lunch counter though 🙂

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  11. Thank you for that lovely, multi-sensory travel back in time. And you are so right that shopping is a good way to find stories. My childhood was just a little after the five-and-dime days, but the paper cups remind me of Ortman’s, an ice cream and sandwich shop, that used to be in Berkeley, where I grew up. I’d get the egg salad and an ice cream soda. I would always choose a flavor with chocolate chips so that they would fall to the bottom and I could have a treat at the end. I remember scooping ever last chip out with that long spoon.

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  12. What a rich post full of senses, scents, and songs. Thanks for this trip down memory lane. Wish we could get these days back. We need to dance a little closer.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What a wonderful post, thank you. Where I lived we had a Woolworth, as well as other smaller soda fountains, ice-cream parlors, and five-and-dimes. I loved a lemon-coke over crushed ice in a paper cone cup. I used to enjoy looking at everything in Woolworth’s then buying a box of popcorn (for a quarter, and it was a big box!) and seeing if it would last all the way home. Penny candy, 15 cent comic books, and hot chocolate from a vending machine… All good stuff. We can still find those simple times amidst the trials going on, they’re still there, we just need to make a point of finding and creating them. You give me that with your blog.😊🌷

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for sharing all your memories, Tanya. Sounds like you spent a lot of time in those dime stores and soda fountains. I remember popcorn in a box too and loved to spend my allowance on Golden Books and comic books (mostly Little Lulu, Nancy and Sluggo, and Betty and Veronica).

      It’s more challenging than ever to remain optimistic and create those simple times to nourish our hearts and souls. As you say, it’s still possible, but part of me mourns the fact that younger generations are growing up without that sense of safety and innocence we enjoyed as children. 911 was probably the big turning point for this country.

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  14. What lovely memories of bygone times this poem evokes. While my small town no longer has the five and dime (somehow WalMart and Family Dollar don’t create the same feeling), we can scoop up popcorn at the local supply store, and every shopping trip has the opportunity to catch up with friends. There’s also our favorite restaurant that has a restored soda fountain from the early 20th century where you can still get old fashioned sodas and ice cream floats.

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  15. The Kresge dimestore building in Ann Arbor is now a Mongolian Barbecue, but the building is still covered in that Kresge-pink marble (or fake marble? Stone?). The plaque that covered the name “KRESGE” in red letters has come off, so you can still see it on the side of the building. Your photos of old dimestores capture what they looked like.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  16. I remember both Woolworth’s and Kress, but I have no recollection of the cashews! But when I was younger, I was probably not that into stuff that might have been mistaken for something healthy! :–) Thanks for the great post and trip down memory land!

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    1. LOL. You were probably more interested in the candy counter than the nut bin. The smell of those roasted nuts was unmistakable, though, as soon as you walked in.

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  17. I loved Woolworth growing up. Such good memories of going there with my mom and brother, shopping and sitting at the counter eating all kinds of yummyness.

    When I was a young adult a Ben Franklin opened where I lived and I liked it too, but it didn’t have a restaurant.

    I’ve never heard of this singer or that song. She has a very good voice.

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    1. Good to hear you have pleasant Woolworth memories, Vicki. And I’m glad you like Nanci’s singing. She hasn’t been touring recently and I’ve been wondering what she’s been up to.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi Jama, in the 50’s we didn’t have five and dimes but we had milk bars which were places where you could get milk shakes and icecreams – but not coffee! Nowadays our equivalents are called dairies which are a bit like your 7-11’s. loved your post., Cheers

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  19. I was thinking about the Nanci Griffith song from the moment I read the title of your post, Jama! I was all set to send you a link, but of course you were well aware. (I should’ve known better!) I remember the Woolworth’s in White Plains, NY. Even as a child it already felt a bit “dated,” but magical nonetheless. Modern day dollar stores just aren’t the same—they have the unnecessary plastic objects in common, but the magic is sorely lacking.

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  20. We had a Woolworth’s — when we were kids we would walk there in the summer for ice cream at the counter. AND Dylan and Nanci Griffith in the same post!!!!! Yay.

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  21. I so miss Woolworth. My Woolworth in the Bronx was within walking distance of my home, and my mom and I, and later, my sister, me and my kids loved to shop and then stop for a snack at the lunch counter! I remember the loose candy you could mix by the pound, the Neapolitan Ice cream sandwiches and banana splits that were priced by popping a balloon, and if you were lucky, you could get for a penny! We were devastated when Woolworth closed it’s doors for the last time. It became a Foot Locker for a bit and now it’s an ABC store. Absolutely not the same!

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  22. What a refreshing post I’m getting goosebumps from the pleasure and your accompanying music–sure were simpler times–and I loved the poem, the ending is perfect,
    “What are you waiting for? Put your mouth right in.
    Dive through. We’re all yours, every single one.”

    Course I love cashews–thanks for all the images and lovely moments here Jama–wonderful to get one’s head lost in all this for a bit…

    Liked by 1 person

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