Summer and the Corner Grocery Store

Do you recall the simple corner grocery store? I do. In my childhood, in the post-war 1950’s, the corner grocery store was part of our everyday life. My mother didn’t have a car, so we walked to the store. I don’t think we had the facilities to keep a store of food on hand and anyway I know we didn’t have the money to create a large pantry of food.

For a long time our kitchen was equipped with an “icebox”.  I remember the man arriving regularly with a large block of ice slung over his shoulder atop a heavy leather pad fitted to him with straps and buckles. With grunting and straining he muscled that clear cold block into the top of our icebox, to keep food cold for a few days. The icebox was small, made of oak with beautiful chrome hinges. It was metal inside and no matter how much my mother wiped down the interior it always sort of smelled sour.

So, grocery shopping was a daily event, and the corner store was our destination. You just walked out the backdoor, across the yard, down the gravel alley, across the street, and you were there. Our store was on the corner of a busy boulevard and an unpaved cross street. It was a little white frame shop that faced out on the wide brick pavement of a main street in Fort Worth, Texas. If it was summer, it was cool and dark when you entered the store from the glare of the midday sun. We usually went over for lunch items. Bread and bologna, mustard and soft drinks. The big treat was to swish your hand around in the icy cold water of the drink cooler. The bottles were sort of suspended in a flow of water and ice. They tinkled against each other as you swirled your hand around searching for the flavor of choice. I always ended up with “Grapette”, a dark purple, tongue-staining drink with a lot of fizz. Of course, after the essentials were selected, the penny candy boxes at the cash register might be rummaged. Some pieces for a penny, some for two cents. There was one which was a square of some kind of taffy, wrapped in bright yellow waxed paper, the flavor was “imitation banana” It was a strangely melting taste and was my favorite.

The highlight of a droning summer’s day was going the store. Sometimes, we went twice, later selecting another evening soda. I remember the smells of fresh bread (Mrs. Baird’s) and cardboard when you entered the door. It was pretty dark in there with low ceilings and the hum of refrigerator cases. The aisles, such as they were, were narrow and the whole place would probably fit in my living room today.

I really love the way summer was in those days with the droning of bugs, and the sound of voices across the street and next-door interrupting the silence and heat. It was so quiet that you could hear people talking inside their houses across the street. Electric rotating fans, quietly sent out a stir of air at nap time. Maybe in the afternoon we would turn on the hose and take what was then called a “shower bath.” As the water from the hose hit the cement sidewalks, steam would rise up, and the peculiar smell of wet lime came up from the concrete. We would run through the sprinklers, squealing. Sometimes it was just chasing each other with the hose…then running shivering to the screen door yelling for a towel.

We used to sit outside at night on the porch. Everybody did. It wasn’t cool but it was better than the heat built up inside the house. Just sitting in the darkness talking, but being unable to see the faces of the talkers. If we saw lightning bugs darting around we would get a glass jar with holes punched in the lid and run around in the grass trying to catch them. The evenings were quiet and unrushed. I know the men came home from work tired, hot and possibly harassed, but glad to be home. Some of the men stepped off a city bus right at our corner. It was easy to get around town on the bus. On rare occasions if you had a car, you could go driving in the hot night with all the windows down, sticking your head out to let the breeze blow your hair all around. Just riding around trying to catch the breeze. This was neighborhood life, in Fort Worth, Texas in the 1950’s.

Friday Morning

“Daniel stepped out onto the walkway and firmly latched the door. He waited to hear the sound of the foyer door alarm engaging and then walked out to the street’s edge looking back up at the façade of the building. It was a typically dark Seattle morning, clouds low overhead, rain imminent; the building sitting solid and comfortable in the pale early light. This was a two-storied brick apartment court, now smartly converted to condominiums. The structure was one of those built in the late1920’s, a U-shaped design, with a rectangular formal garden filling the court, and a little narrow sidewalk leading from the street to the main foyer door, dividing the garden in half…symmetrical, orderly.
Filling the court were two tall, old, spreading magnolia trees, one on each side of the walkway. A traditional low trimmed boxwood hedge outlined the court neatly. The building had been recently painted a soft dove gray. Each of the four front units had a huge plate glass picture window facing onto the street. Glossy black shutters and black painted trim framed these windows. A touch of brass hardware and curvy black iron grillwork finished the look… traditional, pleasing to the eye. A shining brass plaque on the front of the building declared, “The Graystone Arms…”
Looking up, Daniel’s face could not conceal pleasure and pride. The only other person watching was Henry, his dog, standing patiently beside him, a charcoal gray standard poodle. Henry of course approved of everything that Daniel liked. He was a constant companion. And, Daniel had reason to be so pleased. The Graystone Arms belonged to him. It was his property, an inheritance from his Grandmother’s estate. She had owned several properties there in the Seattle area. This one had always been his favorite and she had wanted him to have it. She had entrusted him with the total restoration of the place four years ago, just before her death. The project had come together well. Everyone had thought he was too young to undertake the renovation all by himself, but he had done the job in just less than a year, enjoying every minute of it. The front second floor unit on the left was Daniel’s own dwelling. He was looking up at that big picture window now.
Just then, Thomas stepped into sight in the window above him. He was still in a striped nightshirt with a coffee cup in hand, his shock of blond curly hair, tousled. He smiled down at Daniel and waved. Daniel smiled and waved back. Thomas adjusted his glasses, a familiar gesture. Then still smiling, he moved away out of sight. Now only the reflection of sky and heavy morning clouds remained mirrored in the glass. Daniel’s smile faded. “I need to do something,” he breathed.
Suddenly, there was a lashing gust of rain hitting the window and blowing everything around in the courtyard. A low roll of thunder sounded not too far away.
He looked back up again at the picture window above, watching the rain hitting the glass.
Looking down at Henry he said, “How do I get into these things? He’s in our place…he’s wearing my nightshirt, and drinking out of my favorite cup.”
With a clenched jaw he added, “I hope he remembers to turn off the coffee maker.”
Raising one foot and then the other, Henry waited there on the sidewalk. His eyes were shining like two black buttons. He was groomed in an all-over tight trim, with just a little pom-pom at the end of his tail. He began straining a little on the leash and growling slightly, signaling that it was time to go.
Daniel had already thrown on his raincoat; now he opened his umbrella with a snap. In that moment he turned away toward the day ahead and with an effort, firmly cleared his mind. Off they went, the wind propelling them from behind.”

This is an excerpt from the first chapter of Daniel~The One Who Got Away

by Claire Van Etten

The Swimmer

For several years I have been swimming laps for exercise.  I love the water and I love the routines surrounding lap swimming.  The silence and discipline of this activity give me a time alone when I can pray, think and plan.  There is a rhythm, a routine and also etiquette to be practiced at the swimming pool.  Adult swimmers don’t yell or slap the water or even talk much to one another during lap swimming.  Maybe a polite nod to those in the adjacent lanes, but that’s about all.  It is a time for private exercise, contemplation and attuning your mind and body to the quiet beauty of the water.

Since there are a limited number of swim lanes at the pool, there is some anticipation on arriving. You have to check the lanes and see if one is free for you.  One day I arrived, walked into the pool arena and instantly knew that something was out of kilter; something was wrong.  From the far side of the pool came the sounds and movement of someone making an incredible racket in the water.  In the next-to-last lane, a man was stirring up the pool and splashing water over several lanes on each side.  He was a dark-haired man, heavily built and he was struggling violently through the water, attempting a very jerky butterfly stroke.  The whole environment was being disturbed by this performance.  Of course, the only lane available for me was one right next to him.

Now… swimmers can get possessive about their territory and as I slipped into the water and into my stroke, I began to be more and more ruffled by this man.  To make matters worse I observed that he was wearing several heavy gold chains around his neck, sort of a “macho man” in the water and I was beginning to growl under my breath.  Every time he passed me in the lanes, a wave of spray from his wild stroke would hit me on the head.  My hackles were really up. The judgment came rolling easily out of my heart and mind.  “Macho, Rude, Neophyte.”

Suddenly, I noticed something else about this man’s swimming…there was no kick splash.  None at all.  The next time he passed me I ducked my face underwater and since I was wearing goggles, I could clearly see his lower body. His withered legs and feet were curled in the posture of one who had lost all use of these limbs.  He was handicapped from the waist down.

In my shock and shame, my Dear Lord, Jesus Christ, made His entrance, speaking to me in my mind and heart.  As I swam and watched, my Lord showed me clearly the reality of my swimming neighbor’s condition.  I watched him glide past me once more through the pale blue water and I saw the delicacy and innocent beauty of those crippled limbs.

Through Jesus’ eyes I saw the truth about my brother.  Jesus spoke to me kindly as I watched.  “I love this man” He said, and He went on smilingly, “I love his weakness, his weak legs and feet.  They are precious to me. They are beautiful.  Even more precious than his strong arms and thick neck, and his striving. My strength is made perfect in weakness.  You are unqualified to judge this brother, whom I love.”

I was humbled and stopped my swimming, waiting quietly at the edge of the pool.  I saw the man finish his laps and in exhaustion reach the pool edge also. With a great effort he pulled himself up onto the decking and sat there panting.  He was, now that I could see him, much younger than I had thought, probably in his early twenties.  By himself, he slowly pulled himself up into the wheelchair that was waiting there.  Funny that I had not noticed it before.  Then he wheeled himself away. I wondered for a long time if he knew that God loved and valued him.  He had a grimly determined expression on his face.

Once again the Lord spoke to me.  “You see,” He said, “man judges by the outward appearance, but I judge by what is not seen, by things hidden away from the surface of life.”

God Spoke

The story of creation is an awesome one.  The Bible in the first book, Genesis, states that God spoke, simply spoke, and creation was brought into existence.  This is called creation EX NIHILO, or creation  out of nothing!

Of course,  ex nihilo is a Latin term.  Genesis was originally written down in Hebrew.  The Hebrew term used there is “BARA”, to bring forth something for the first time, to create. When we humans now create, we actually are making something out of materials already here, already created…by the Creator.

Bubble Up

Oil on canvas 22×26 inches

Do you ever feel like something is bubbling up?  Something needs to be said, written, painted,  built, expressed, cooked.  That’s the normal human creative gift at work.  We are all made like that. An idea let loose… a work of some kind.  We have to take the time and courage to get this done.  To make room for…to allow… creation in our day to day living.  Nothing can stop it.  It is just time to Bubble Up!

Rio Grande

Transparent Watercolor 20×30 inches

Watercolor is a vibrant medium.  The watercolor painting above is an example of how art can follow nature in ways that express the true feeling of a scene.  This is a painting of the Rio Grande River and its setting near El Paso, Texas.  The colors may seem exaggerated… but not that much!  This is a place of drama.  The rusty mountain and earthy sands below are part of an ancient volcano’s caldera.  Beyond rises the level mesa which extends far into New Mexico.  The mesa consists of a fine red sand which gives rise to some awesome sandstorms!  As seen in this picture, voluminous clouds suddenly rise high and dark, moving showers quickly across the area.  Just sweeping the land with a little dousing of needed water.   This is the juncture of three states, New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua, Mexico.  All three meet at one point on the top of this mountain, Mount Cristo Rey, with the river running by below and mountains all around creating the pass which is known as “El Paso del Norte. ”  The Pass of the North.

This is a large painting. About 20 x 30 inches, on heavy weight rough watercolor paper.  I like to work big, with lots of pigment and big brushes.  Get splashy, its only paper!  If you don’t like it you can throw it away. Or do what I do, take it outside and turn the garden hose on it!  Most of the paint will wash off leaving only a shadow of the shapes, which are a good map for the next try!

The Waters

Acrylic on canvas 40×40 inches

The Book of Genesis says that the Spirit of God was hovering over the Waters in creation.  This is a beautiful and mysterious word picture.  Apparently all was darkness in this primal phase of creation. No light had yet been spoken into existence.  The waters are described as “deep.” I painted this big 40 x 40 inch canvas recently.  It was done in acrylics.  I wanted to show the two-fold qualities of depth and movement.

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Genesis chapter one, verse two.  New International Version of the Bible.