Ten year olds have a different pace to things, but maybe at ten the word ‘pace’ hadn’t yet reared its ugly head with me. Small towns being what they were on cold days. There were things to do but it never seemed pressing to get them to happen much faster than they should.
Take the Five and Dime store. I don’t think the owners ever considered putting their name on the oversized plywood sign hanging over the double doors, Five and Dime seemed about right, the curling letter plate 5 swooping down and meshing with the Copperplate 10, with a bold ‘&’ setting the whole thing off, a nice balance. Things that made sense right off the bat. You could go in here, spend your 5 or 10 cents and walk out, feeling that your patronage was appreciated.
Maybe you were feeling particularly over the top that day, and had a whole dollar. A dollar would buy something like 20 of those 5 cent baseball packs, a whole sack full, with a stick of near frozen gum wrapped in waxed paper for each of them. They were leftover in a sense, baseball having finished up a month or more ago, and the more wintry and dressed up games in full stride. There was wealth for you, to sit on the curb unwrapping, fanning cards into a growing pile and stuffing the wraps back into the paper sack.
Or the Doughnut Shop next door. Where you went to feel particularly grown up, sitting there at the counter on a tall red stool with shiny chrome rings for your feet, your dollar spread on the Formica to show all that you could pay. Just as the man in a suit and hat next to you could pay, a cigarette smoldering in the chipped ash tray beside him. Coffee, a slice of pie for him, cream doughnut and a Coke for you.
If there was a menu it was on the wall behind the counter, painted by hand and carefully, too. Hamburgers a quarter, Coke for a dime. It was a sign that never seemed to change, painting by hand was a longish and expensive thing, so prices had better stay the same for quite a while to make a go of it. Pocket change was more important too, it paid the lunch bill, and leaving a nickel for the girl wasn’t a bad thing either. She’d remember you next time, smiling, maybe ask your name and “What’s a strapping young fellow like you having to eat, now?”
The delicatessen, never the Deli. The one your uncle used to own but no more. With great hanging things in brown that smelled of pickle and spice, a white roll of paper and numbers you picked from a wire because the minute you walked in it was “Take a Number!” in a great shout from behind the counter, it was the way they said hello in delicatessen-speak, all a-rush they were, with much flashing of long knives and wrapping with the white paper and a dab of tape. A solid ker-chunk! from the cash register and the drawer would spring against an aproned belly, a murmur and a clink of change.
Stone churches, a cemetery behind endless iron fence topped with pointed spear like ends, daring the young to climb. Whirring past on a bike with a long seat, the paper sack rustling under the zipper of a jacket and heavy with the cards, the gum by now warming up enough to bend, and it seemed the flavor was a little better when it was warmed up too.
Home was just a right turn, then a left, it was nothing at all from the Five and Dime or the delicatessen, the Doughnut Shop, a three minute pedal on any day at all. Chances are that it would not snow, but what of it?
There were worse things that could happen on a November day when you were ten.
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