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.