The Neighborhood Drug Store

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​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.

Oh! Kenny’s! 

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.

A Christmas Gift

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​My first Christmas at church I didn’t know what to expect. I had never spent so  much time in a pew until that spring before that first Christmas. The season of Advent was a surprise to me. I thought it was  merely the religious counter to consumerism post-Halloween. Pumpkins and turkeys and tall evergreen trees fighting for space on store shelves and floors, hanging on wires from warehouse height ceilings. Sets of twenty-five mini boxes filled with the chocolate or tea or Lego of the day.

But church Advent wasn’t that. It was greenery and purple, the season of waiting, of patience, of reflection. I had no idea what I was doing, where the path I trod would take me and so patience and reflection were exactly what I needed.

Didn’t we all?

And apparently that insight, that foresight was already built into the season.

And, then, overnight, seemingly as if by magic, wreaths adorned the walls alternating with the windows. Purple ribbons changed to gold. At the back of the choir, the tall evergreen, white lights shining brightly and garland delicately strung across the bottom of the organ pipes appeared.

I did know that there would be more people at Christmas services than at the daily masses, and even more than at the Sunday masses. I thought the pews would be filled, everyone tightly sitting, trying not to touch their neighbor but failing at that, everyone finally giving up the pretense.

Filling the pews, laughter and song, smiles and handshakes. What I didn’t know was that it would be standing room only, barely meeting fire code, if at all. That first Christmas Eve, the low hum of talk between carols, seeing the pastor, greeting the pastor, shocked as he remembered my name. The lights dimmed giving off the feeling of candlelight. Father J asking the back row to budge over so I could sit, leaving me no good way to sneak out if it became too much.

I was unknown and still welcomed as family. No strings, no judgment, malice toward none.

The week before this Eve was something many churches do, but many more used to do. The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. I thought it was a sing-a-long, but it was more a solemn service alternated with hymns.

Ode to Joy. My favorite moment in the Die Hard movie was actually Beethoven and part of the Christmas music selection; with words. I grinned ear to ear at something so familiar in such a strange setting.

Around the middle, towards about three quarters, the music director, D, began his piano and sang the first three words – O, holy, night. This song wasn’t in the book , the guide we’d received when we arrived, a clear indication that we were to listen and not join in.

It wouldn’t have mattered had the words been there with the direction to chorus. D’s voice rose and fell and held notes I couldn’t imagine existed. It was as if the sky opened and angels guided his music. It was more than just a lovely song by a lovely voice, although it was that also. It was more than a heart could hold. It was G-d and joy and love and spirit rising as incense, speaking to souls. I held my breath. I didn’t realize I had tears in my eyes until the last note when the spell was broken with applause.

Every year since then I wait through all the musical offerings, enjoying all, but hoping my Christmas gift arrives from D and it usually does in a pre-piano hush that clears the senses before they can be filled again.

The birth of the child who would be King in every note, every breath, every moment.

Country Store

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Every August my monthly writing group goes to lunch. We plan out the rest of the year’s meetings and catch up on the summer.

All of us are either “graduates” of the weekly bi-seasonal writing group or still attendees. That group starts in three weeks.

I love wandering around the country stores. Most of them have additions so it’s like going through a maze with each doorway leading to a new theme: Halloween, candy, kids, flowers, food, soaps, candles. So many things to look at and touch and smell.

And lunch was great: quiche and salad and of course a cider donut  (their specialty).