For Christmas my brother and sister-in-law gave me a book entitled Good Poems, which are the poems that Garrison Keillor selects and reads on his NPR program, The Writer’s Almanac. This morning I read a poem called “Woolworth’s” by Mark Irwin, and it brought back memories of our five and dime store in the middle of Fairfield Center in Connecticut. On Saturdays I would go with my parents to the center. While my mother went to the stationery or Trudy’s, the women’s dress shop, and my father went to the hardware store, I would wander into the five and dime, my allowance burning a hole in my pocket.
What a marvelous place! At the back of the store, the first place I’d run was the menagerie of parakeets, turtles, hamsters, and little white mice. (I always wanted a mouse but had to settle for a turtle.) There were beautiful bolts of fabric and tables with stacks of pattern books. I’d sit at one of the tables and search through the books, daydreaming of how a certain outfit would look if my grandmother made it for me.
Though I looked at everything in the store each time I went in, only two things were slated to take my money from me: animal crackers and “fine” jewelry. Yes, I had a penchant for flashy gold and ruby or emerald rings, the kind that had the adjustable bands that fit three times around my tiny finger and turned it green, and the sparkly glass that lost its luster after a few turns making mud pies. And the animal crackers? I wasn’t even fond of them, but I liked the circus wagon box they came in, and I loved seeing my brother’s delighted face when I gave him the cookies inside. He was rather frugal with his money and never would have bought them for himself. Why should he, when his sister was always so willing to provide?
Yes, we have dollar stores today, but they can’t hold a candle to the old five and dimes. Those old stores were neat and orderly, like the sales women in their starched white blouses and pencil-straight skirts. The glass counters were cleaned of fingerprints and the imprint of little noses pressed up against the glass as eager faces perused the merchandise behind them. They were part of the Saturday magic with Mom and Dad in the center of town.