Way Down an Old Road (ms)

The man stood at the top of a gentle hill looking at the street that rolled away from him for a half-mile or so before fading to a point and finally disappearing over a small rise. Everywhere he looked, everything he saw spoke of change and it seemed to have come overnight. Of course it had not for the radical change that lay before him could not happen overnight; it took time, truckloads of time, decades of time. Fifty years when the man thought it over.

He began walking down the hill at an easy pace taking in what he saw, studying it. To a casual observer the buildings along the street would seem rather odd, looking perhaps as though they had been something else, once. Casual Observer would have noticed that, puzzled about it for a moment then dismissed it to think of lunch or a call that needed to be made or something else much more important than the odd shape of these buildings and the notion they had been something else in another life. The man whose steps we follow here did not dismiss them, did not dismiss anything he saw for each building to him was a treasure from a past life, the life he lived here all that long time ago.

Oh it was a busy place this street. There, on his left across the way, there was once a small grocery and a doctors office next to it. No appointments offered by that doctor. Going to see him might require carrying a lunch. You walked in, got a chair if you were lucky then waited until it was your turn. If he had to run out on an emergency well you could either wait until he came back or leave if your illness allowed and return another day. Many an evening spent there waiting for Doc.

If you had a prescription to fill after your visit why you just went down a few feet to the drug store. While waiting for your medicine you might browse through the sundry items in the store, an almost laughably small collection of goods compared to drug stores found these days. The man we’re following thought the pharmacy section of one of those huge stores might have held this entire store even when bulging full of merchandise at Christmas.

Down the street a door or two there was a hardware store. Nothing fancy in it, just the basics and somebody behind the counter who knew how to use what you wanted to buy just in case you had a question. And, if all the business done to that point left you dry and thirsty why you could drop into the corner tavern and wet your whistle. The man smiled at that turn of phrase thinking how it was old enough for Social Security yet he still found himself using it now and then. Old habits die hard but old memories die harder still.

People now lived where people worked in Once Upon A Time land. Folks shopped for groceries where those people worked clothes too, candy for the holidays, some liquor if needed. They took their vehicles in to a mechanic who knew their names and their cars and the gas station owner himself might come out to check your oil and wash your windows. It was all part of the service. The men might go for a haircut three doors from there then, freshly clipped and polished, go to a movie on a Saturday evening with the wife or girlfriend. Always something doing on this street as small as it was, the man thought.

Then came a time, he recalled, that closed the door and turned the key on everything the man knew of here though no one thought much of it at the time. A shopping center opened two towns away, had big searchlights out lighting the way to the place as the man recalled. Everything along Main street, the quiet empty street he now walked, could be had in one small area. Not only that, each store was bigger than even the biggest of the local places and it seemed there was enough parking to accommodate everybody from three towns if they were inclined to drive. Well, that was nothing said the locals, the excitement will die off before long and that shopping center will be a luxury trip. Folks from here won’t want to go there, they said, and leave us after all these years. Ah, but they did.

On Saturday’s and Sunday’s there would be veritable caravans of cars heading down the road, out of town, taking their business to chain stores whose owners didn’t known their customers from Adam and neither side cared much about that. The owners wanted money shipped to them by armored car, the locals wanted a new bargain every time they came through the door. As long as each got what they wanted life was good and as it turned out for both parties life was better than good.

Back in town, our friend reflected, the merchants tried to figure out how to build a dam against the tide of progress but they couldn’t. The water just got deeper and deeper until, one by one, they lost their grip and slipped quietly beneath the waves. In the course of a few years Main street became like many other streets in towns around the country: a vacant remnant, a now tired flag that once flew tall and proud. By and by the former stores were bought up by a new generation looking to move into something they could call their own. So what if it had lots of shelves on the first floor, the remnants of a walk-in refrigerator, some old showcases in the basement. What mattered is that it could all be turned into something else, a home along a quiet street where traffic was sparse, the neighbors just fine and a good shopping center only a couple miles away. And so it was.

The man had made it by then to just about that point he marked while up on the hill. He turned around to look back from whence he came and thought about it all. He could almost see in his minds eye exactly that which he spent the last hour pulling out of his memory banks. It was more than a generation ago yet it was there and always would be so far as he was concerned. Memories are always the last to go, aren’t they.

–Mike Stevens

~ by admin on December 13, 2010.

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