My parents owned a “variety store” when I was third grade–maybe after and possibly before, but I know for certain I remember going there in third grade. After school my sister and I would walk from elementary school ten minutes to the block-long business district known to everyone then as “uptown” to spend time there until Mom closed up shop at five and took us home. Sometimes my friend Marie would offer me a ride on her banana-seated bike, in which case my nine-year-old laziness would force me to blow off my sister’s accompaniment.
Our store was called Remington Variety. It sold all kinds of stuff from office supplies to toys (a personal favorite) to housewares, and paint. It was there where I got my big singing break–or took my opportunity, really. One Saturday afternoon while my father literally “minded the store” to give Mom a break to do fun things like clean the house, do laundry and grocery shopping. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tried to squeeze in a couple of shots of Jack or a nervous breakdown. It was a slow day (you could almost smell the bankruptcy), so I thought if I swung into action I could bring customers into the store and keep them there, enraptured by my vocal stylings and purchasing the wares we peddled at reasonable prices.
There was a little-known intercom system (except to me–even then all things electronic caught my interest) from the back office to the front of the store or showroom, as I called it. I didn’t feel the need for rehearsal. I had put of on plenty of shows with my sisters for my grandma, though as a back-up singer (the youngest), not as the lead. This is what they called in showbiz as a “make or break moment.” I hopped on the little stool by the intercom master control center (on/off switch), grabbed the CB-radio-shaped microphone and pressed the button before bursting into my rendition of “Delta Dawn” by Miss Helen Reddy. Over and over. Like a flawless track on a perpetual loop. It’s moments like this I recall with great curiosity, fondness, and even pride. Somewhere along the line I stopped indulging the little voice inside and its whispers of encouragement and daring.
I was in the middle of my third repeat when I heard the unmistakable tap of my dad’s hard-souled shoes, heading my way–FAST. He rushed into the office and said, “You know that thing is on?” I just stared at him blankly, hoping I wouldn’t have to answer that question and that he’d leave so I could continue my in-store entertainment. But this show didn’t go on. Apparently my talents were too esoteric for the likes of that hick town. A dream crushed. A true calling burned to the ground. Another boring afternoon sniffing the wares in the paint room (where one of my illegal stashes of Wacky Wafers and Marathon bars were kept.) I hadn’t known so much humiliation since the day I nearly choked on root beer-flavored Wonka Bottle Cap during the Spring Fling Sale.
We lived on the opposite edge of town in the old Bible Baptist Church my folks had purchased and converted into a house. Our part of town was newer and didn’t even have sidewalks. It was fun to be “uptown” (which at some point in the passing of time has changed to “downtown”); to be in the thick of the what little hustle and bustle a town the size of Mayberry could generate. Running across the street to the post office or going next door to the cafe for “a breaded tenderloin and a milkshake, please” or running to the drug store to get Mom and me little bottles of Coke, each costing “two dimes and a nickel.”
It went out business after a couple of years. Not long ago at a family gathering I asked, “Do you think it was because of all the candy I stole?”
“Yes,” my mom replied. “I’m certain it is.”
(Thar she blows! The green storefront back in the day wasn’t green and was nestled between Brookings Shoe Store on the right and The Remington Cafe on the left.)