Monday, March 11, 2013

Saturday's column: The Town Market

Not my bag. The contents
look way too healthy.
Each week I am tempted to write in this space long soliloquies, talking to myself as much as to you, Gentle Reader, about how things used to be in Kerrville -- "Why back in my day," I'd start, then you could fill in the blank.  And, I'll admit, as I get older this temptation is stronger, perhaps because things here have changed so much from when I was a boy here in the 1960s.
This week I realized some of the important things remain the same.
Time was when one walked down the streets of our "downtown" area, you saw a lot of folks you knew, from passerby to shopkeepers.  Most of the commerce in our community took place in just the few blocks of "downtown," from Jefferson Street to the river, from Tivy Street to Francisco Lemos, but most of the traffic I remember was in the area closest to Earl Garrett and Water streets.
In those days the 600-800 blocks of Water Street, plus the 200 and 300 blocks of Earl Garrett contained many of the businesses people visited at least once a week.  Two banks, both newspapers, barber shops, beauty shops, Ladies' ready to wear, haberdasheries, the book store, two movie theaters, magazine stand, sporting goods, a tobacconist, and an 8-story hotel, all piled into those four blocks, along with our only post office.
Down on just our little block, the 600 block of Water, besides our print shop, was the bus station, the General Motors dealership, a movie theater, a milliner, the Western Union office, a barber, a lawyer, a locker plant, and, later, a retirement home. (Of these, only the print shop remains.)
The downtown area was busy because everything was in the same area.
There wasn't a lot we didn't know about each other, and the weekly newspaper served as a kind of index, usually of things we already knew.
For urban types this lack of "privacy" might have been the main drawback for small-town life. There were times when you couldn't paint your mailbox without hearing a discussion about it the very next week, sometimes among people you didn't really know well, and who didn't even live near you, especially if you chose a non-standard color of paint.
And, when I was a boy, if I did something amiss while in the downtown area, you could be sure my parents had already heard about it by the time I got back to the print shop.
Perhaps I don't miss everything about those days.
This week, though, while dashing into the grocery store to grab something on my way home, it occurred to me many of the things I miss are still here.
At the grocery store you see all sorts of people: rich, poor, young, old.  You see folks who are new to our community, and those who are members of families who were among the earliest settlers here. Everyone needs food, and so one can count on seeing most everyone at one of our grocery stores at least once a week.
I'll confess: I like to go to the grocery store, especially with Ms. Carolyn.  There was a time when these weekly visits to the store were an excuse for some alone time (our children, during their teen years, did not like grocery shopping), and it was often, there among the aisles, we discussed plans and made decisions about our week.
But there is another reason I  like to go there.  It is one of the few places where you get to see members of the community you rarely see, especially if you do something especially daring and go on a day other than your regular shopping day.  That way you get to see the Tuesday people, or the Thursday evening people: for a moment your orbit intersects with their patterned orbit.
It is there you see the artist considering beverages, the elderly couple debating the merits of opposing brands of cereal, little children, both well-behaved and normal.  On one recent trip I saw both a judge and, a few moments later  in a separate aisle, a recent defendant in his court.  I've spied husbands and wives who had no idea the other was also in the store, often carrying the  same things in their separate carts.  Sometimes I tell them, but usually I let them be surprised later.
In the Old World there was often a market in the middle of town where all came and traded.  I suppose, in a small way, grocery stores are something like that today.
Take the time to learn the names of some of those who work at the grocery store, people you're likely to see every week.  You'll be surprised how they react when you know their name and a bit of their story. (The vast number of shoppers never take the time to learn even their name.)
I was surprised to realize how this trip to the grocery store, which we consider a weekly and often expensive chore, can actually make things similar to what they were, long ago, when Kerrville was a much smaller place.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who  is often looking for an item that was once stocked on aisle six, about halfway down, on the right.  It is no longer there.  This column appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 9, 2013.

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