It was an aging Ben Franklin Five and Dime store on Main Street. The windows that ran along the front of the store seemed more capable of lighting the place than the ancient fluorescent lamps that hung from the ceiling high above, their blackened ends flickering in octogenarian protest.
Plain wooden bins, two abreast, stood aligned in parallel rows, each brimming with dusky merchandise. Baby socks, tank tops, cheap underwear inscribed with the days of the week all vied with each other like lackadaisical contestants at a country fair's token beauty contest.
Pastel postcards, embossed with ersatz linen weave, showed the arched entrance to the Lake Lenape Amusement Park, with its now-defunct Ferris wheel and the totally useless lighthouse, built for atmosphere, not foggy warnings. In the same bin, long wooden paddles proudly proclaimed, "Board of Education" above a cartoon kid about to get a whupping from a furious adult. Green and pink plastic back-scratchers were imprinted with gold letters proclaiming, "Souvenir of Mays Landing, NJ." I can still hear the musical clacking as I held up several for comparison. Scallop shells held miniature boardwalks, and glittering sand glued to the blue water painted along wavy edges. A plastic arch, glued along the boardwalk proclaimed, "Atlantic City, NJ." Tacky plaid beanbags were crowned with gilt ashtray receptacles, and I wondered what plaid beanbags had to do with an ocean resort. A grass-skirted hula dancer gyrated when the hidden lever beneath her feet was depressed, assuring all and sundry that she, Wahini, was the muse of tacky souvenirs.
The place smelled of old wood and spilled Coca Cola. A blue-haired lady stood by an ancient cash register, her eyes glued to my brother's and my every move. We made our selections, took them to the front, where we each added a cellophane-wrapped cinnamon stick to our pile of postcards and gew-gaws. Our treasures were slid into a flat paper bag, shiny with stripes of light and dark kraft paper, with pinked edges. Mom was waiting outside, anxious to get to the Court Pharmacy before it closed in the still-light summer evening. A decade later I would man the cash register behind the counter of that very same drug store, doling out prescriptions, condoms, and greeting cards.
It was the summer of 1959. It seems as real to me now, forty-six years later, as it did that day. I may not remember what my husband just said, but that evening at the tawdry, small-town emporium shines on in the synapses of my oft-belabored brain as if it had just happened. How strange.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Annina L. Anton