I don’t know how old I was but it must have been around high school or college; that young adult age before I could drive, and my mother asked me to run into Calvert to pick up whatever it was. Where’s Calvert? I asked. Next to the luncheonette was the reply. Now, the luncheonette wasn’t a luncheonette then, it was a five and dime, although in the 1980s it wasn’t a five and dime, and I don’t even think it was called that, more like a dollar store, but for a quarter or fifty cents. I think it was called Marty’s, but that was also the name of the luncheonette; when it was a luncheonette. I just can’t remember.
I tried to picture the row of stores where the luncheonette was the corner, the anchor, the first one you reached when you walked or biked through the labyrinth of suburban streets that led to this first bastion of civilization from the rows of houses set up in Levittown fashion.
Then my mother clarified: Kenny. She said it in the tone of someone speaking to a toddler who didn’t understand what to do with the sippy cup – Sink.
Kenny was the druggist at the drug store where my parents got their prescriptions or we kids got ours when we were sick, which was almost never. He knew us all by name, and would just hand over our family’s prescriptions. There was no identification needed, no birthdate IDs, no signatures. He didn’t ask about our allergies; he already knew them. I was living elsewhere when he retired, but I was still sad. I don’t know where my parents went for their prescriptions when his store closed. I know that my mother had to get her insulin through mail order and that was a nightmare. It was never right. They had no concept of how that particular delivery system and how their way of dispensing it and refilling it was not only idiotic, it was absurd.
Kenny’s drug store was a small, square aisle-filled mecca of antiseptics, bandages, aspirin, aspirin substitutes, and whatever else he could fit. There were stationery supplies, a paperback book section, greeting cards, and more. If I recall correctly, he didn’t have much in the selection of gum. I’m almost certain that after Kenny’s, we’d take a detour to Marty’s and buy a pack of gum, look at the racks of magazines, maybe sit at the lunch counter if it was a special occasion. Very rarely, but sometimes, we would get an ice cream treat, a cone to take with us. He may have given us a Bazooka Joe piece of gum. I don’t think it was penny candy, but it couldn’t have been more than five cents.
It smelled like a hospital waiting room, and to get to the medicine, I had to walk all the way to the back of the store, to a huge, almost taller than me counter looming with Kenny behind it, smiling, wearing that bluish-white, collared short-sleeved pharmacist shirt, not asking what I needed because he saw me come in and it was already in his hand. I don’t believe there was a co-pay because I never remember giving him any money. It is possible that after the insurance, he sent a bill to my parents for any excess owed. There were no computers; only a big, metal cash register that clanged when the drawer opened.
Behind Kenny were the rows and shelves of medicine that he put into the bottles, printed the labels before he stuck them on, and then placed in the bags waiting for the customers; all done by hand. Sometimes, the labels were even crooked.
After we moved upstate, after I was married, and after Kenny had retired, we were looking for a pharmacy. They weren’t called drug stores anymore. Our landlord recommended a local place. It had been a local place for about seventy-five years, maybe more. We went there. The mayor was our pharmacist. His oldest daughter was on the soccer team with our oldest son. His neighbor, the mom of our son’s friends, was also a pharmacist there as well as School Board member. He is now an Assemblyman for the state. It was similar to Kenny’s, but not quite the same. We still go there despite living about fifteen miles away. I like the familiarity. I like that I have John’s phone number and he’s talked to me about saving money on my co-insurance at the end of each year. Although, one bone to pick would be that I have a hyphenated name, and they can never remember that the first part is not my first name. Come on! It’s been twenty years!
Still, I think I go there instead of the grocery store or the big box stores like Target and Walmart because it does remind me of a time before, of quality goods, of neighborliness, and care taken with the medicine that is there to save our lives and help us live longer and better. It’s just a little extra friendly that we could all use in our daily lives.