Friday, October 28, 2005

"Downtown" is Gone Forever

Written by Kenju:



A post I read yesterday got me to thinking about the downtown area of the town I grew up in.

I'll never forget the first time I was allowed to walk through town alone; I asked if I could walk to my grandmother's house which was a good mile and a half away. I was 6 or 7, and I felt so grown-up. Little did I know that my Mom was following me in the car, about a block behind.

The following summer, when I was playing with a group of friends, we went onto a bridge near our houses and I stuck my head through the bars of the railings to see what was in the water beneath the bridge. Stupid me couldn't pull my head back through the bars and the fire department had to be called. They finally coaxed me out by having me twist my head to the side. I like to say now that my ears were so big I couldn't pull my head out. Maybe that's why an old boyfriend told me that when my hair was in a ponytail, I looked like a Cadillac head-on with the front doors open.

I remember a diner in town, called the Quarrier Diner. I took some classes in a building across the street from the diner, and every morning we would order grilled sweet rolls. I can still conjure up their taste - as near to Heaven as I am likely to get. Back then I could eat stuff like that everyday and never gain an ounce. They also had excellent barbecue sandwiches, and I have never been able to find another one like it. Speaking of "Quarrier". I remember reading that the only street in the world with that name is in Charleston, WV.

I used to work in the Diamond Department Store, multi-floored and fabulous, back in the 50's. I started there as a member of their "College Board" one summer and worked as a gift wrapper,model, sales clerk and finally their "Personal Shopper". This was a great job, as I got to spend other people's money buying gifts for people they didn't have the time or the inclination to shop for. It was a little like going out on a treasure hunt each time we had an order, and some were easier to fill than others. Once a young man came in to buy Christmas gifts for his fiancee, and I helped him spend $100, which was a whopping sum back in the day. Turns out she had been one of my junior high school classmates, and she loved all the stuff I picked out for her. The Diamond had a snack bar as well as a cafeteria, and you could run into many people you knew by eating there. If I had a dime for every time I sat at that counter...........

I used to go to the local Woolworth's Five and Dime (as they used to be called) and buy doll clothes, candy, gum and toys. That store had a smell that permeated the whole building, and I think it was stale hot-dog chili, emanating from the lunch counter. I spent many an hour there, looking and dreaming as only a small girl can. I also spent many hours in the library. In the summer, Mom would take me there every week, and I would check-out 10-12 books and read every one before they were due.

Parades in small towns are usually fun; as a member of the local "Rainbow Girls" close-order drill team, I marched in many parades, up and down "The Boulevard", which is the main drag, beside the Kanawha River. When we came to the viewing stand, usually filled by city dignitaries (or wannabees), we would stop and show off our latest drill, except that we were holding batons, not guns. Two years ago, I got to see the Marine Corps Drill Team perform at Marine Headquarters in DC and they did it with such style and grace it was amazing. They hold real guns, with bayonets attached. Part of their drill is to toss those guns back and forth to each other, and viewers are certain that someone will lose a body part, but it appears they seldom, if ever, make a mistake.

I said in the title that downtown was gone forever. In Charleston, it isn't gone as completely as in some other cities. The reason is that space is so limited there, due to the rivers and mountains that stores and malls only have just so much area to build in. Consequently, there still remains a vestige of the way it used to be. But in my mind, it is gone forever.

Too bad that small town America has gone "poof" like smoke from a bonfire.

7 comments:

Idgie @ the "Dew" said...

I have often mourned the passing of small town life myself.

It was a time we'll never get back.

kenju said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
poopie said...

Haha! My little brother did the same thing with his head at the zoo ;) Hilarious stuff. I used to go the the local Woolworth's with my great gandma and loved it.

aka_Meritt said...

You can borrow my current hometown. ;)

Steve said...

Great piece!! I have to say I am saddened by the deconstruction of small town America too, your story has helped it resurface in my mind as something to watch out for..

Marilyn said...

Taking a small child to Woolworths was akin to taking a grown woman to Tiffany's. The look in their eyes was the same. My own home town in North Carolina is having some resurgence of activity in downtown. There aren't that many retail stores, but lots of restaurants and ice cream shops are opening in the old storefronts. Main street is busy and on a summer evening, it's hard to find a parking spot.

J.E.S.Gillespie said...

Wow - that was a real window into another world.