Back Doors

 

This is another shot from the Charlottesville Downtown Mall (a restored historic district and pedestrian mall in Charlottesville, VA).

What attracted me most to this image was it reminded me of a building that I knew as a kid. My uncle Fred and Aunt Angie ran a dry-goods store in Pitcher, NY in the mid ‘50s–population probably 7 or 8 hundred in those days. The store didn’t belong to him—he just ran it for the owner. The back of the building looked a lot like this image.

The store, whose name I can’t remember, went out of business in 1957—I was age 12.

For the sake of historical perspective–1957 was the year President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Arkansas to provide safe passage into Central High School for the “Little Rock Nine,” the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and in October the U.S. military sustained its first combat fatality in Vietnam.

One fall weekend—as the slaughter in Vietnam was getting under way and Sputnik could be seen shining in the night sky—my parents, my 2 siblings & I made the two-hour drive to Pitcher where Uncle Fred (with the owner’s permission) gave us a bunch of the store’s inventory.

53 years later I can only remember 2  things out of the  stuff we carried out the back doors of that building and took home–a heavy, solid oak rocker which I still have—it’s in the attic—and a big box of bubble-gum collecting/trading cards of the U.S presidents. They were produced by the Bowman Company—which was bought out by Topps in 1956. (I guess those cards were left-overs.)

The gum was stale and hard but I loved the cards–seems like there were a lot of Millard Fillmores and Eisenhowers. The rarest card–which was the last in the series and completed the set—was a group portrait of all the presidents together.

In the early ‘70s Brakel Creek flooded the town of Pitcher and the surrounding countryside. The foundation of the building was damaged and it had to be torn down. In the late 70s a gas station was built on that lot but it was hit by lightening and burned to the ground—it was a miracle the above-ground tanks of gas didn’t ignite. Another gas station was built a few years later and it too was hit by lightening and burned—once again the tanks didn’t explode.

Fred ran a so-called “share farm” for a few years in the same area (I fell down a well there—but that’s another story) then sometime in the mid ‘60s while I was in the Army, moved to Syracuse, NY and became an apartment building supervisor. A few months after moving there he & Aunt Angie divorced and he married a very rich woman who lived in the building he supervised. What with the Army and college I pretty much lost track of Fred in the years after that. In letters my mom would occasionally mention he and his new rich wife did a lot of traveling in very nice cars, ate at very nice restaurants and stayed at very nice hotels.

The last time I saw Fred was in 1989—in Lakeland Florida. I have a snapshot of him somewhere and he looks pretty bad. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s, had to be spoon-fed like an infant and didn’t even know his wife of 24-25 years much less me. His wife did faithfully care for him until his death in 1993.

A lot of time has passed—over half a century—since we hauled that stuff out the back doors of the failed store. The killing in Vietnam has stopped, Sputnik has fallen out of the sky, a black man has been elected to the most powerful office on the planet and the lot on which the store stood, to this day, remains empty.

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