A few ‘five and dimes’ (not pocket change)

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 27, 2014

The other day, when cleaning out my pants pockets, I encountered just the least little bit of “green” (paper money, not mold), but as always, an overabundance of weightier currency (coins).
There weren’t as many quarters as I had wished (coins and wishing always intertwined), but in addition to the ever-present pennies, there was a small wealth of nickels and dimes, bringing to mind the old “five and dime” stores of the past. There are present stores, parts of vast chains, which display some of the same kinds of products as those stores of the past, but not all. A good many of these modern-day “five and dimes” proudly have the word “dollar” displayed as part of their name.
Of course, I have mentioned before that my mother worked at Salisbury’s W.T. Grants, but I’ll center on another aspect of Grants not mentioned previously: the pet department. Today, you have to go to “Petsmart,” “Petco,” etc. for pets, but back then there was a small variety of them to be had at Grants.
In addition to fish and parakeets, there were also the very popular baby “Red-Eared Slider” turtles of the day, always sold with a cute (but inadequate) shallow, plastic bowl-like home with raised area in the middle to provide a break from the water (since they are semi-aquatic). On top of that basking area was a green, plastic palm tree, reminiscent of a cocktail umbrella, in both appearance and size.
Grants had parakeets of different colors, always in “chirping” mode. I remember their cages being lined with paper towels and old newspapers (bringing to mind an unspoken fear concerning my column; but just as the body is merely the spirit’s remaining shell, I’m OK with the print’s recycling, just so long as the recycling is preceded by the reading).
I remember one brief time when Salisbury’s old Grants carried something which I have never seen at any of the current pet store chains: monkeys! The store only had them for a short while, because I think those little spider monkeys proved to be a certain amount of trouble (as monkeys usually do, in or out of the barrel), but considering the greater biological family to which they belong, it’s really not surprising!
Whoever got within a certain radius of the male spider monkeys’ cage at Grants would often receive a narrow “yellow stream,” directed quite “pointedly.” I’m reminded of the barrier which had to be erected at the North Carolina Zoo to keep their chimps from hurling “missiles” at the sight-seeing public, such projectiles best delicately described as being of a making “all their own.” The antics of the W.T. Grant Co. spider monkeys were quite interesting, especially when viewed out of range.
As previously stated, no department store has a pet department anymore. The Danville Walmart used to carry live fish for pets, and freshly dead ones on ice for consumption, but I have seen neither there in quite a while. (Even if there may be a connection, I have no desire to pursue it.)
And besides, at Walmart, no one needs to look at fish swimming, birds flying, and toads hopping (the makings of a strange variation on a Gershwin tune) when there is plenty enough “entertainment” provided there by other “creatures” who call upon spandex (too often) to go above and beyond (much beyond) the call of duty.
I will only make short mention of Woolworth’s, although it was just up from Grants. I only went in a few times, eating at the lunch counter on one occasion. Since my mother worked at Grants, in my young mind (consciously or subconsciously) I must have considered them to be “the competition” (which they in fact were).
One day, I found something very interesting at Salisbury’s old Kress store, a little farther up South Main. I have a feeling that if that particular place on the corner of South Main and West Bank had been a “Kresge’s” instead of “Kress,” we would have called it “Kress” anyway due to the partial resemblance of its sound to a certain Rowan County surname most likely anglicized with a “c.”
The very interesting item, actually two, which I saw that day were: cloth, draw-string bags containing used postage stamps and books into which they could be glued. The label on the bag reading, “Postage Stamps From Around the World” especially caught my eye, so I bought a bag and a book, untying the draw-string and dumping out the stamps when I got home.
In addition to some U.S. stamps, there were stamps from England, Canada, Germany, Spain, South American countries, Africa (I remember “Togo”), and some islands in the South Seas.
Laborers “somewhere” had used scissors to cut the stamps off of the envelopes to which they had been affixed. Some classified ads say: “Make $200 a week stuffing envelopes.” When we do a large mailing from our science museum, all of the staff members chip in. After doing a couple of boxes, you get the feeling that your brain is almost gone and that you might better save that last envelope to slip your last remaining “wits” into, to be mailed to yourself and hopefully retrieved later from your P.O. box. At that point, refreshed from the trip, they could then be reinstalled in your skull. (Counting paper ballots is just as boring, too.) I imagine that cutting stamps off of envelopes is just as mind-numbing over time (and not much time at that).
If some of the original envelope were left, I would get my scissors out and trim it away. After that, I always used glue to secure those postal “treasures” to the stamp book. My glue differed from that of the stamps’ original “gumming.” It was often that glue to which memories of “school days” are also stuck: Elmer’s.
My stamp collecting was done during the time when most people just licked their stamps, instead of using a sponge or roller-ball with water-filled reservoir. Thinking of that fact now, I’m filled with alarm! Within those draw-stringed bags was a collection of DNA samples from around the world, or at the least, those developed countries with postal systems using gummed stamps, likely to be licked. My former hobby was interesting, but now added to it is a certain element of retroactive concern, helped along by those currently popular forensics TV shows and regular “surmisings” about pandemics by the Center for Disease Control and the Discovery Channel.
Those people older than I, my same age and a little younger rely on memory to tell them in which of Salisbury’s buildings “W.T. Grants” and “Woolworth’s” were located, since the bolted metal signage of both was removed about two generations ago after final closing. Only in the minds of those individuals whose age is represented in a narrow radius surrounding mine (and of course, in the old Salisbury City Directories) are those buildings’ original names still inscribed.
“Kress” (spelled however you like) will always be “Kress,” as it is enshrined as the original occupant of the beginning of 300 S. Main St. through its name being an inseparable part of the building’s architecture. The straight lines of the structure’s roof are broken by the arch at the summit, an arch especially planned and built to overlie and highlight the name “Kress.” If you doubt that, just stand at the corner of Main and West Bank streets and do as the late astronomer-star gazer Jack Horkheimer on PBS always exhorted us to do: “Look up!” (In this case, during both daylight and streetlight, but in no way as far.)
The same “eternality” also goes for “The Empire Hotel,” where a sign also remains, but with differences in blueprint, and in city block.