Bill’s Lunch is for rent. Have you noticed? I did, last week, as I drove past. As teens, we crowded into booths on Fridays before home games to consume our weight in french fries there. Bahr’s Furniture has a new name and a new look, both inside and out. In the other direction, the buildings from Dederick’s all the way to the First National Bank are still there, but the aromas of after shave from Ken Hill’s barbershop and stale beer from Daley’s pool hall are gone. Anderson’s jewelry store is gone, too. Shaw’s law office and the newspaper are both still where they were back then, but the theater hasn’t shown a movie since I don’t know when.
Neville’s Hardware sells consignment clothing now. I wonder what Mr. Neville would think about that. The Sportsman’s Cafe still has counter seating and pie. The Jerdon Shop hasn’t been the other clothing store in town for a long time. Ott Drug is now Ott Pharmacy. The comic book racks might not be where they used to be, but the place still smells like perfume and chocolates. Next door, Sherman Motors hasn’t smelled like car exhaust and axle grease in decades.
Miller’s Red Owl has a brand new look that Melba would, no doubt, have approved of because it’s pretty darn fancy. Across the street, there are no mini-skirted girls with guns in holsters at the Wagon Wheel. The hotel on the corner painted with polka dots has been replaced by the credit union. The small souvenir shops on both sides of Highway 2 no longer beckon to city kids riding in the back seats of cars who begging parents to stop “just to look” on their way to the resort. Vienna’s Cafe is gone, but Jurvelin’s Hardware is still on the corner. If Jurvelin’s doesn’t have it, you don’t need it. Am I right?
This was the “uptown” of our childhoods. A place where business owners greeted us by name. They were the people who helped us to open our first bank accounts and measured our feet for new school shoes every year. Small business owners who gave us after-school jobs and let us pay for school clothes on “layaway”with our babysitting money. They taught us how to work for what we wanted before the big world ended up stuck with us. Too soon, we moved to bigger places with malls and shopping centers. Sometimes, we’d come back to visit. The fact that we were back where people knew our names, more than any other fact, told us we were home.
Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can see them as they were back then. The women changing displays in sparkling front windows, and the men opening awnings and sweeping sidewalks to prepare for another day of business in a small town. The buildings are still there. New owners and new businesses have replaced the ones so many of us remember with such fondness. When I walk past those buildings, I still see the friendly gray ghosts of people who made up a town in the 1960’s and 70’s. A community that helped raise a generation of kids.
A generation that the big world would have ended up with one way or another. One that was maybe a little more frugal and hardworking and polite because our names were known in a small town.
One that remembers their names and faces now.