My Hometown #11: Shopping Local

This piece was first published in The Grand Saline Sun on April 27, 2017.

Saturdays were made for kids when I was a kid. Saturdays began with Bugs Bunny & Friends, The Superfriends, and Cap’n Crunch Crunchberry cereal; and they ended with The Love Boat and Fantasy Island on our television which was still connected to the tall antenna outside the living room window—no cable TV with 300 channels back then, kiddos. We knew the struggle of rabbit ears and aluminum foil, and the struggle was real! But, in between the familiar refrains of “you do not need another bowl of cereal” and “it’s time for bed, we have church in the morning,” there were, quite often, trips downtown to fill grocery lists, get haircuts, purchase clothes and shoes, and always find some unnecessary plastic item that we just couldn’t live without.

In my very first “Hometown” piece, “Do You Remember,” I wrote about growing up in Grand Saline when the downtown area was still bustling—at least somewhat. Stores like Darby’s, Perry Brothers, W&W, and Jarvis’ Department Store were still open. While not as cavernous or colorful as the so-called “big box” stores we are familiar with today, they had what those stores have always lacked—charm. Regardless of how much stuff is available on dozens of aisles spread over thousands of square feet, there is nothing particularly inviting about the blue and red giants which have, slowly but surely, siphoned away virtually the entire market share from the all-but-extinct mom and pop shops I grew up with. Those stores were not just places to buy things, they were places to go. We dressed and meticulously combed our hair before those trips downtown because at Darby’s, Perry Brothers, W&W, and Jarvis’, we expected to run into neighbors and friends and engage in leisurely and lengthy conversations. Pajama pants, house shoes, and caps to cover an unkempt coiffeur were not acceptable.

There were other stores we visited on Saturdays which I remember with particular fondness.  Back in those days, my mom wore Merle Norman cosmetics. Now, I will admit that my memory is a little hazy on just exactly where she purchased them—mostly because I almost always refused to go into the store with her and my sister, and partly because that was over thirty years ago and middle age hasn’t been kind to my memory. But, what I do remember for sure is that whether she was buying make-up or the ever-popular “twist-a-bead” necklaces, she frequented both The Smart Shop and The Gift Galleria. Both stores were small, quaint, and full of that small town charm I mentioned earlier. Joyce Sloan and Monteen Joslin, their respective proprietors were always present, polite, and helpful to their patrons. I do have one particular memory of a visit to The Gift Galleria where I saw the first Aggie joke I ever remember seeing. It was an “Aggie bookmark.” It was, of course, maroon and white and emblazoned with the Texas A&M logo. It read, “See reverse side for instructions” on both sides. Just think about it for a second. If you’re still thinking……….well, anyway! The store was full of both funny and fantastic gifts. Believe it or not, though, it wasn’t the only store in town where serious loot like that could be found.

Just down the street and next door to City Hall, in the building where Sammy’s Beauty Shop is today, was The Gazebo. The Gazebo was pure magic for kids. They carried every conceivable trinket, sticker, pencil, eraser…I mean, seriously, talk about an extensive inventory of everything a kid couldn’t resist and a mom or dad couldn’t fathom the need for! It was one of my favorite places to go when I was a kid. Back in those days asking mom for permission to walk down the street to The Gazebo or The Sportsman’s Corner while she shopped for herself was perfectly okay.

Oh, The Sportsman’s Corner! The store where my fascination with fishing lures and iron-on decals was fomented. I can still remember the smell of those iron-on letters and numbers as they were heated and pressed onto the backs of baseball and soccer shirts; and what seemed an entire wall covered with fishing lures in every shape, size, and color. Plus the trophies, ribbons, and medals on display. I’m sure every kid who ever went in the store remembers thinking to him or herself, “I’m going to win that trophy one day!” I also remember an intense curiosity about what was upstairs—the same sort of curiosity I had about the second floor of Jarvis’. I don’t think I ever found out and my curiosity about such things hasn’t waned.

The best thing about Saturdays—really about every day—growing up in Grand Saline back then, was that there was always something to do. There was always somewhere to go and shop or just hang out. I suppose that nostalgia makes my memories of that time far more exciting than it actually was, but it was still a fun time. There was no internet, no Netflix, no PlayStations or Xbox’s. There was just stuff. There was stuff to do and stuff to look at and, if we “acted nice while we’re in the store,” there was stuff to buy in the shops downtown.

While I was preparing to write this piece, I drove through downtown just to jog my memory a bit. While there are still a number of empty store fronts, I was glad to see that things seem to be picking up again. Changes are being made. Positive and encouraging changes. Changes that maybe, just maybe, will give a kid like me some good memories of Saturdays to share someday.

My Hometown Series #2 – The Old Red Brick Building

Wow! I’m completely blown away by the response to the My Hometown Series #1 post yesterday. I guess I’m not the only nostalgic person around. In that same spirit, this second post was a piece I wrote for publication in the Grand Saline Sun in July of 2013 on the occasion of our school district opening a brand new elementary school. The old building had been the elementary school for over 60 years and simply was no longer a facility which could function as designed. There was (and still is, I guess) a lot of discussion regarding the fate of the building. To date, it is still standing empty with no plan for its future that I’m aware of. If you would like to contribute to the My Hometown Series (it’s not just about MY hometown), please see the contact info at the bottom of this post.

My Hometown Series #2 – The Old Red Brick Building

The building has stood through wind and rain; through heat and cold; through good times and bad. For more than sixty years, the old red brick building in the middle of Oleander Street has stood as a symbol of part of what we hold dear about our little hometown. For more than sixty years it has stood as generations of students sat in classrooms and listened to the thumps and creaks its old wooden floors made as their teachers returned with worksheets or textbooks.

“Shhhhh! She’s coming. Be quiet!!” The lookout would alert.

But, it was never fast enough. Before the warning was heard by most of the chattering students, the doorknob turned, the latch clicked, the big wooden door opened and Mrs. Starkey, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Stacey, Fisher, McNatt, Grant or any of the others who gave more of themselves than they were ever asked to give, was standing in front of the class openly aghast by their disobedience but secretly laughing at their attempts to fool her. None of them were ever fooled. None of us were quick or clever enough to make that happen!

It’s a building full of memories – too many to number. Memories of students seated in the wooden seats in the auditorium before school watching cartoons on the old console television in front of the stage. Memories of swinging on the monkey bars or sliding down the slide at recess. Memories of kickball on the old baseball field behind the gym. Each of the memories unique to each of us, and yet a common bond between hundreds of people – young and old – who share them.

It’s a building full of people – some of them still with us and some long gone. Which of us doesn’t remember Mrs. Bogan seated in her wheelchair in the office diligently working to ensure that the day-to-day business of the school was successful? Or, Coach Yates with his four and eight count calisthenics, bear crawl, and “pickin’ peas?” Which of us doesn’t remember ‘Miss Dot’ Jennings collecting lunch money? Or, Mrs. Fisher

The old Grand Saline Elementary School building.

The old Grand Saline Elementary School building.

leading the class singing K-K-K-Katie?! They were and are one of a kind and the roll call is a Who’s Who of dedicated women and men who cared for their students as if they were their own children.

They’re all there – the people, the sites, the sounds – they are all part of what makes us nostalgic when we drive by the old red brick building in the middle of the street. To be sure, things have changed over the last six decades. New buildings have been built and a few of them have already been torn down. Countless coats of paint have been applied to walls and doors and trim. Playground equipment has come and gone. But, that building still stands as a keeper of memories; a keeper of hopes and dreams; a keeper of history.

The halls are empty now. The last students to ever walk them left weeks ago, but the floors still thump and creak as teachers and workers walk them while working toward the big move. Each thump is a footstep from history. Each creak is a memory of days gone by. No matter what happens in the next months and years, those memories will remain. It will be 2023 before that last student to walk those halls walks the commencement stage and that will be almost 80 years since the first student entered the new red brick building in the middle of the street.

August will bring a fresh start in a brand new building. The floors won’t thump or creak. The latches on the doors won’t click as loudly. There will be new faces and new names; new toys to play on; new desks and chairs to sit in, and new memories to be made. But, for those of us who are lucky enough to have spent part of our childhood walking those halls, playing on that playground, and learning from those teachers, the memories will remain part of us. Whatever the future holds, for us Grand Saline Elementary School will always be that old red brick building.


If you would like to be a guest blogger for the My Hometown Series, or any other topic, please email me — jason@jasonawalker.com