Recalling fond memories of the A&P

  • Posted: Monday, March 18, 2013 12:37 a.m.

When I was growing up on the Old Concord Road in the 1950s and ’60s, I learned what the name “Betty Crocker” meant from ads on television, but I was well acquainted with another “feminine” food-connected name, since many of the items in our little pantry had it included on their product labels. That name was “Ann Page,” sort of the more personalized form of “The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company,” commonly known as “the A&P,” just as Woolworth was sometimes referred to as “the Woolworth.”

I remember the employees and customers of the A&P being friendly. I have only good memories of Salisbury’s old A&P, except for the time I was bitten. The bite was not from management, staff, or fellow customer, but from a dog left tied out front by its owner while shopping. The dog appeared to be friendly, his open mouth in that fixed, seeming “smile” which all dogs have when their mouths hang open, but when I petted him, that “smile” ceased, as his jaws (and teeth) closed quickly around my hand.

The teeth broke my skin a little, and my father sought out the dog’s owner, who said that his pet was up-to-date on all of its shots. My father wrote down his name (the owner’s, not the dog’s) along with contact information, just in case. Evidently, nothing came of it, as I have no recollection, at any point during my childhood, of ever having frothed at the mouth.

One of my very favorite foods back then came from the A&P (it’s not exactly like “the Woolworth,” because in its case, it sounds awkward and probably incorrect not to preface “A&P” with the article). This item was the “Spanish bar cake.” The rich, dark “bread” of that cake, its concealed raisins, and that contrasting snow-white icing combined to become a taste of perfection. Although that type of cake had probably originated elsewhere (Spain, I guess), to me it belonged to the Salisbury A&P alone. At some little store the other day, I saw “something” of the same rectangular dimensions, purporting to be “Spanish bar cake,” but the cake part was much lighter in color, appearing less rich than the A&P’s sweet, dark “rectangle.” That lighter-color cake also revealed its raisins’ hiding places too easily, and even made the icing appear kind of “sickly” white through lack of contrast. These observed features resulted in my non-purchase of a seemingly poor facsimile of the “real thing” remembered from my youth.

Another favorite of mine was the A&P mayonnaise. It was so good that I would often make a sandwich consisting only of A&P mayonnaise and bread (“holding” everything else), with a peanut butter sandwich usually alongside. I would take a bite of one, then the other, alternating until both were consumed. The lingering residue from one consumed piece seemed to add “something” to the flavor of the next, but I never attempted to mix mayonnaise and peanut butter within the same pieces of bread (although I would sometimes mix mayonnaise with ketchup to make a “Thousand Island sandwich” or make a “ketchup sandwich” by itself, and I also share my mother’s fondness for a “ketchup biscuit” now and then). Actually, just the other day I made a mayonnaise sandwich, but with “Dukes,” since A&P mayonnaise is now only a Northern phenomenon (if even still produced and sold there). I don’t know whether or not my fondness for mayonnaise sandwiches and sandwich experimentation with ketchup are “mayonnaise” things, “ketchup” things, or that both are combined into a “Southern” thing.

My father had a great fondness for sardines and cheese (not together, of course), and he bought both at the Salisbury A&P. I would often see him cut off a slice of cheese, then just eat it by itself. He would take two saltines and make a “sardine cracker sandwich” (a sardine really cries out for something else to complete it).

I attended the fortieth East Rowan Senior High School Class of ’69 reunion in October of 2009, held at the Salisbury Elks Lodge on South Main Street next to the old A&P building, which I think is now being used as a Salvation Army Store (as we stood in front of the Elks Lodge for a group picture, looking across South Main toward Lyerly Funeral Home, fellow classmate Alan Beaver pointed out that establishment as a likely future class reunion site).

The Salvation Army Store’s (old A&P’s) parking lot was being used for parking space by many of the Class of ’69’s reunion attendees. As I stepped from the car onto that pavement, I sort of had my own personal reunion with the place where I sometimes sat in my father’s car reading dinosaur books while he would run into the A&P to pick up just a few things. I was struck by the appearance of the old parking lot’s pavement in the early evening light of October 2009. There were no holes, but what was once solid and unbroken when we shopped at the old A&P had become a mass of time-cracked asphalt, resembling some geometrically inspired, abstract work of art. I don’t know if the lot has been re-paved since, but that was how it looked in October of 2009.

That pavement had the look of being the product of some sort of continental drift, but on an extremely localized scale, becoming little broken, asphalt “parking-lot plates” that had developed over the years. It was as if, in the geologically brief bit of time since the 1950s and ’60s, this “crust” had only managed to disjoint, but not yet move. It was a completely different case with the former East Rowan classmates getting together inside the adjacent Salisbury Elks Lodge. We had been carried far away from being together in 1969 by something which moves much faster than the infinitesimally slow, creeping crusts of rock: “life!”

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