Let’s laugh at the clock on the wall.

I grew up in a small, small town in Central Pennsylvania, right on the border of what they call “Pennsyltucky”, the outward lands of the state marked by blighted Appalachia, wide rolling hills, and miles upon miles of pastures, corn fields, and truck stops.

The house I grew up in was on a shaded street with expansive sidewalks, the smell of pine, and painted rain spouts.  In most towns this would be a side street, a forgotten street.  But in my small town, it was one of the main thoroughfares, although almost no cars went down it.  I remember once peering out our glass front door and seeing the town’s sole police officer giving hasty chase—lights and siren blaring–to a speeding motorcycle and thinking maybe the world was ending.

Just a few blocks down the street from the house I grew up in was a corner store.  It was, I would estimate, about three blocks away.  This corner store was, even all those years ago, a throwback to older days.  It was not “intentionally nostalgic”, it was just a little store that hadn’t yet changed.  There was still a soda fountain there, where you could order Chocolate Cokes, or pineapple sundaes.  Things like that.  Folks gathered there in old wooden mint green highbacked booths, smoked cigarettes and spoke animatedly over outspread newspapers, hunting magazines, lottery tickets.  There was penny candy by the counter, a spinning rack of comic books by the door, and ammunition, shoe polish, and straight razors under a glass case near the back.

Frequently, but on no set schedule, my father and I would walk together down to this corner store.  It was something we did together.  Often, my sister came, too, but as a boy, of course, one singles out the times you are alone with your father.

It was three blocks away, but back then, of course, it seemed quite a distance.  Distances are always changing as we grow.  The walk to the store with my dad was half the fun.  I would try to walk on just the painted part of the curb, but I had the darndest time.  I couldn’t balance.  Then Dad would try, and I would try to push him off, but he was too good.  My father had impeccable balance.

We’d get to the store and, typically, the older neighbors who lived near our house were there.  Dad would settle into a booth with them, and so I would I, at first.  They’d start talking grown-up stuff after making obligatory kid talk with me.  They’d light their long cigarettes with colorful disposable plastic lighters, drink pungent coffee from thick-walled mugs, pop open cans of Tab.  I liked the smells, how they intermingled, how they wafted, how they meant Dad and I were together at the corner store.

Before long, I’d slip under the tables, make my way behind the counters, even disappear into the back stock room, which I remember as a long, dark hallway with one or two turns, and boxes up to a ceiling that looked fifty feet high.  I had the run of the place.  The owner and his sole young employee never tried to corral me.  I invented worlds within that store.  Alien lands, faraway cities, subterranean hideouts.  Every so often I’d pop back into a mint green booth and see that maybe Faye had won five dollars on a scratch-off, or Dad had a strong opinion about something that I didn’t understand, but I wanted to understand.  I wanted to.

One year, on the day of my birthday, Dad and I walked down to the store.  I had finished opening my presents and was already feeling very special, near ecstatic.  It was early evening and dusk was setting in.  My birthday is in mid-January, so it was decidedly winter.  Dad and I set out for what seemed to me the long, but pleasant, walk to the corner store.  What a night for me!  My birthday and now the store.

Halfway there, it started snowing.  Just a light, flurry-kind-of snow.  Still, I was sure Dad would suggest we turn back.  How could we keep walking to the store in the snow??? I thought.  But he had no designs to turn back.  We talked, we laughed, it snowed in our faces and stuck in my eyebrows.

Let us not try to make things perfect.  Let’s laugh at the clock on the wall.  Breathe deep the stunning air and wonder, wonder about everything.

9 Responses to “Let’s laugh at the clock on the wall.”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    I was right there in the store with you. You painted a crystal clear image as if all your memories were mine also all along.

  2. What wonderful memories. I think about those trips to “Freemont’s” with you often. You remember those times just about the same as I do. It was a little bit like Mayberry.

  3. This is a great piece of writing. it captures not what it meant to be you as a kid, or your dad’s son, but to be a son as a young boy, period.

    Also, I’ve been past that store at least thousands of times, and have never once been in it.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      It hasn’t been “the” store I wrote about in probably 20 years. Back then it was informally called “Freemont’s”, but the sign said Community Cut Rate. Since Freemont died a few decades ago, it’s been everything from a sandwich shop to a pre-made dinner store (whatever that is; I’ve been assured it’s different that a restaurant). So unfortunately, the highbacked mint green booths are gone.

      And thanks for the kind words. I was hoping to capture at least a slice of universality.

  4. That was a really great story, Seth. So well written, I felt like I was looking in on your sliver of the world bygone. That was a beautiful tribute to your Dad as well as a refreshing read for my mind to ponder. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Love this story about you and your dad, and about our town. :)

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