I’ve talked before about my little hometown of Greer, South Carolina.
Except for short summer family vacations to the beach, or visits to see aunts, uncles and cousins, Greer was the center of my world–family, friends, school, church–all the things that come together to form our lives.
Of course, those times are full of memories that, as I grow older, seem to pay me visits more often. I’m now thinking about the little things, not the so-called big events of later years like proms, sports, girlfriends, and graduations.
My years growing up were before there were many chain or franchise anythings–at least not in Greer. The only ones I can remember were a Western Auto Store, an Esso service station and, of course, a car dealership. There were two local downtown banks and no branch banks, one movie theater, two grocery stores, two 5 & 10-cent stores, one pool hall next to the police station and a handful of other independent merchants.
One of the grocery stores, Clement’s, was locally owned. My family, as well as many others, had a charge account there. If you didn’t pay your bill or got too far behind, your name was put on a blackboard by the one cash register. I guess that was an early form of “social media.”
My best friend’s house backed up to the same alley that served Clement’s. If we were riding our bikes or playing in his backyard, it was not unusual for us to run in Clement’s back door, which was always open, through the
storeroom and up front to buy a coke. No one seemed to care–just another neighbor kid.
Every few years, a man who worked for the Morton Salt Company would come to town. The owners would know he was coming and would have cleared a space for him near the front door. He would set up a circle of Morton Salt boxes (you know the round ones) about five feet in diameter and two boxes high. In that circle, using salt poured from the boxes, he would fashion the Morton Salt logo–the one still used today, which pictures a little girl holding an umbrella with the slogan: “When it rains, it pours.”
Everyone would come to see it until some child would run into the box circle, turning the boxes over and destroying the “artwork,” or the salt would have turned gray with dust and was removed. We were easily entertained in those days.
Both of the 5 & 10-cent stores were across Trade Street from each other. My favorite was McClellan’s. It was bigger and more fun to explore. The other one, I remember, had a mean-looking old woman who was always hovering nearby, ready to swoop in if we picked up a toy or did anything she didn’t like.
Every few years McClellan’s would host a group of young Filipino men who came to town to sell “yo-yos.” They were all experts, if that’s an adjective you can use to describe “yo-yoing.” As soon as we saw their tricks, like “walk-the-dog,” the “elevator,” “around-the-corner” or the “creeper,” we had to have one of those hand-painted beauties. If you bought a more expensive model, one of the men would carve your name or initials on one side.
For the next few weeks or maybe months it was “yo-yo fever.” We drove our teachers and parents crazy. I haven’t seen one in years. Guess they couldn’t compete with video games. At least we were moving around and out in the fresh air.
One traumatic event of my preteen years started in McClellan’s. They always had a few strange, what I guess you could call “pets”–goldfish that seemed to always die in a few days, small turtles with palm trees painted on their shells, and, every now and then, white mice or hamsters.
One spring, they had a big bird cage with the cutest little gray birds. I think they were some sort of Finch. We had an old bird cage in the attic that had once been the home of a parakeet, so I talked my mom into giving me fifty cents to buy one of those little birds.
The clerk put it in a box with a fold together lid–the kind you see used for carry-out Chinese food. I went out the back door to the alley, which was the quickest way to my dad’s store. About half-way there, I couldn’t stand it, and stopped to take a look. I lifted one corner of the lid just a bit, but that bird was out in a flash, and out of sight.
I arrived at Dad’s store in tears, carrying an empty box. A lesson learned–I guess.
GET THOSE SHOTS. WEAR THOSE MASKS. IT’S NOT OVER YET!
Bill Minus lives in Chestertown, where he writes about his observations and memories.