Weekly rant 18.5.2012
Thanks for the memories
I am always afraid to say "Remember when?" as people always smile at me like they do when confronted with a semi-retarded child, stop listening and nod their head in understanding, telling me nostalgia isn't what it used to be and that the past always seems better than the present.
That might be the case, and the glasses of time do make things look, well, glazed. Time is the best Vaseline on the lens making everything soft and out of focus, letting us remember only what we choose to remember, or at least what our subconscious chooses to keep in our permanent record. Yes, the same permanent record we were threatened with when we were small children in the headmaster's office...
When I grew up, and yes, I do understand the mothball smell you all now have as you read these magic words, but when I grew up things were different. I don't know about better, I was too small to understand all the significance of what was going on and from three-feet high the world is a completely different place anyway, but things were different. That, I am sure of.
We had our local grocery shop, a small cluttered dark place of mystery, with big barrels and tin cans full of pickles and dried fruit. It had a variety of salty fish and herrings in smelly huge plastic boxes that you had to avoid when you manoeuvered inside the store or the smell would stick to you until the end of the day, and a long shiny glass counter for all kinds of cold slices and salami from all over the world (not that it was a chic place which boasted international variety as per some of our new supermarkets here in town, but in a country made up of immigrants like where I come from, you have to cater to people who have arrived from all different cultures, and even the small differences count. Try selling a Polish mortadela to a Hungarian. That would not end well).
It had small dusty plastic containers, full with horrible candy in different colours and sizes, hard industrial candy designed especially by the evil dentists' association to make sure they can buy a new vacation home, and in the back the bottles of sauces and strange concoctions on the upper shelves. All in all _ a wonderful chaos of merchandise.
It was the kind of place where everybody knew your name. For better or worse, where you would call the store by the name of the owner, or more accurately by the name of the father of the owner who died a long time ago, but it is still his store and his 60-year-old sons are just "taking care of it for him".
It was the kind of shop where you could say "Mommy said to bring two milks and half a dozen eggs, and write it down", and you would know that somehow at the end of the month, the old notebook where the debts of the regulars was written down would show just a little bit more than you actually bought, but it was okay, it was part of the deal, no real interest on the credit given but somehow it was always rounded up. It was okay.
It was the kind of store where you could buy half a loaf of fresh bread. Because you needed just half a loaf. I am not sure if people today can actually grasp that notion. You need half a loaf so you buy half a loaf. I have the urge to repeat it again until someone gets it, but I will hold myself.
The truth is I never really liked that store. They were not nice. Okay, okay, I was an extremely annoying kid, even more than the annoying adult I am today, so it wasn't really their fault, but although I went there at least once a day throughout my childhood, I never felt any connection to it.
Until it was gone. Isn't this always the case? We realise the value of something only when we don't have it anymore. And I do miss it. The last time that I was visiting my hometown I went there to buy, well, anything. I just went there. But it was gone.
It was even more sad than just "it was gone" because the store itself is still there, the name changed, the owners changed, the old items disappeared and the shelves are full of the same plastic products you can find in any supermarket or convenience store. It was gone. All that was left was a skeleton of a store with some faded smell of things that once were, of a world that does not exist anymore, a nostalgic aftertaste of our childhood.
I will not go into why keeping our mom-and-pop shops alive is important to our culture or to our global economy. I just doubt anyone will ever have the same colourful childhood memories from Tesco or Big C. That is all. And that is something.