In the wee small hours I woke up mentally wandering down Main Street, Newark Delaware.
I walked down the left side. No, I don’t know North from South. I’m a left and right girl. First I passed University of Delaware’s Old College. Next to it is Recitation Hall. I had most of my college art studio classes there.
The building smelled of oil paint, turpentine, and creativity. My freshman year, while taking Drawing 101 the professor got so exasperated with one student’s artwork he tossed it out a second-floor window. Professors worked hard to weed out the art students who thought being an art major would be an easy ride.
My junior year we were tasked with doing experiential art. The U of D drum major, Robbie, was a brilliant art student. He made the whole class put on white marching band fingerless gloves and he blindfolded us. He led us to the long sidewalk in front of Old College and had us sit in a circle on the public walkway. We sat and sat and sat. Finally, after what felt an eternity, I lifted the mask. Robbie was gone. We were surrounded by laughing spectators. I learned most of the other’s had lifted their blindfold’s long before I did.
After Old College and Recitation Hall I walked to Rhodes Drug Store. I recall years of sitting at the counter on a spinning stool and having a cream cheese sandwiches.
After Rhodes was Wynn’s Gift Shop. My best memory of Wynn’s is buying an itty bitty flower vase as a Mother’s Day gift. It was crackled Blenko brand glass, aqua blue, about four inches tall. On each side were pressed two blobs of glass with thumbprint indentations in their centers. I loved that bottle. After Mom died, I brought it home. Sadly the container broke a few years ago when I was vigorously mopping up the kitchen counters.
Moving on I passed Peggy Cronin’s Fashions. Walking into Peggy Cronin’s was dropping into a time warp. Did she ever dump old inventory? I doubt it. Her shop was narrow. The racks were so tightly packed I could barely push hangers from left to right. Dresses were dusty and faded. Hats were decades out of style. I think her store had a front and back room. What a jumbled mess.
Next door was the anti-Cronin, Vera’s Clothing Store. Tidy, spotless, expensive. When trying on clothes, you had to put a sheer white hood over your face to protect garments from makeup. In high school, I bought a shamrock motif bra and panties there. AA bra. I was flat as a board.
Vera was French, short, blond, and bossy. I don’t think she much liked having High School girls in her shop. She catered to those with far deeper pockets.
Several times a year she made buying trips to Paris. Her store stock was current and fashionable. Her husband often worked the store as well. He was no taller than Vera and had a thick French accent.
The next place along the walk was National Five and Ten dime store. They carried everything from housewares to clothing to school supplies. I worked there in college. My first job was painting price signs for the display window. Red tempera paint on white shelf paper. Huge letters. Fifty cents a sign.
“CARDIGAN SWEATERS $9.99″
I thought they weren’t discreet or classy enough. I argued my point with the manager, but without luck. After all, how classy is a dime store expected to be?
Upon entering, on the left in the front of the store was a lunch counter. For a while, I served there. During the week an older woman cooked all the food, and I slapped together sandwiches or scooped up chili.
On weekends I was required to prepare some dishes.
I once made egg salad and, as mother did, put pickle relish in it. Customers complained.
We had several regulars. The ones I remember most clearly are a middle-aged brother and sister. They rode their thick wheeled bikes along Main Street and only ordered tea and buttered toast. Both were tiny, with thin hair and vacant looks.
Once the owner, Mr. H, asked me to make him a vanilla milkshake. I did, but he got angry because I put ice cream in it. He had endured a heart attack. Careful eating was necessary. It seems the milkshake was to be skim milk and ice. Who knew?
One of the managers liked ice cubes in his hot coffee. One day he sat at the counter watching the cubes melt in his cup, and told me he’d recently encouraged his tiny daughter to climb a ladder, promising he’d catch her when she jumped. She clambered up, leaped, and–with his arms folded across his chest–he watched her land hard. As she was crying, he stated, “That was to teach you never to trust anyone.” I was horrified.
I also took a spin working the cash register. At first, I was hopeless at counting back change. The other manager patiently taught me how to do it, stating the amount owed, “Two dollars and eleven cents” and the amount paid, “out of ten dollars.” And then counting out pennies first followed by nickles, dimes, quarters and dollars. I wasn’t to put the ten into the register until completed counting back the change. Otherwise, the customer could claim to have handed me a twenty.
When someone offered a credit card, I looked the number up in a small booklet to be sure it wasn’t a bad card. Then put the embossed plastic unit into a swiping machine that made carbon copies. I put purchases into paper bags. At the end of the day, I had to count out my drawer and reconcile what I’d started with a compared to what I ended with. That task made me nervous, given my poor ability at making change.
The National Five and Ten is still in business. I think now they mostly carry University of Delaware T-Shirts, hats and jackets.
Next to National is the Newsstand. I’ll finish memories of walking along Main Street another day. It’s a long way all the way to Newark Shopping Center. Then I have to trek back on the other side of the street. I hope you’ll walk along with me.
Taking these journey’s back to the town and experiences of my youth is fun.
Somewhat related blog posts: