I remembered this evening that I have a blog, and discovered this bit of unfinished business in the drafts folder, sitting there quietly since October 2016. It’s a bit of nostalgia, a bittersweet remembrance I don’t want to lose, and therefore I am sharing it with you four and a half years since scribbling it.
After a busy day at my desk trying to get some business things resolved, I drove up to my mother’s house to paint some trim work for a few hours. We are definitely making progress, but sometimes we feel as though we’re spinning our wheels trying to get the house finished and on the market.
I managed to get a second coat of paint on the trim around the kitchen window, the utility room door, and three doors in the hallway. I had greater ambitions when I initially arrived, but getting up and down from the floor to do the lower bits was taking a toll so I called it a night. Remembering three things I needed to drop by the post office mailbox, I headed across town before turning toward home.
The “new” post office (which has been there for decades) is right down the street from the old Wellborne Shopping Center. As I passed by the empty parking lot that stretched for several blocks along the length of what had been the preeminent shopping destination for Alvinites, I was overcome with nostalgia, mingled with more than a little sadness. In the dark, I could see brightly lit signs announcing an auto parts store, and less bright signs for a little strip center church, a Mexican restaurant, and a Hispanic grocery store.
After I dropped my letters in the mailbox, I turned back towards the shopping center and pulled into the parking lot. It was almost completely empty. A lone car sat in front of the closed restaurant and farther down the row of spaces, a truck was parked in front of a SnapFitness establishment. Other than that, I don’t think there were any other vehicles. I looked back toward the building overcome by emotion.
The first emotions to hit me were very recent and connected to the little Mexican restaurant. Las Flores. The last time I ate there, I was with my mama. On those days that I took her to M.D. Anderson for doctors’ appointments and the timing worked out right, we would stop and get a late lunch. What I would give to be able to take her to lunch again! It’s difficult to believe that was over two years ago. Before that, my memories are much more distant.
It’s hard to remember the exact order of shops. My memories are from the early 80s’ and before. I can remember general locations, though, and looking at the end of the shopping center where the Mexican restaurant is, I remember Swanson’s Music store, a beauty supply shop, and a Christian bookstore called “The Potter’s Wheel.” My first record album — Donny Osmond — came from Swanson’s. And my best friend used to buy supplies from the beauty supply shop to do her own acrylic nails. One time she was driving somewhere and decided to fix a cracked nail at a stoplight. She opened the nail glue with her teeth, and, you guessed it. Got nail glue on her lip. Fortunately she didn’t glue her mouth shut!
The Hispanic grocery occupies what was once Perry Brothers — a five and dime store where my mama would take me to pick up art supplies, Trixie Belden books, and toys. If I’d done well in school, she would take me to pick out a prize. I’d walk up and down the aisles, looking in the compartments created by narrow sheets of glass held in place by silver metal brackets. Rubber balls, sets of jacks, crayons, Big Chief notebooks — and I think we may have bought one or two Halloween costumes there before we stopped observing Halloween. We’d pick up $5 gifts there for the gift exchange at my school Christmas party, and I’d spy the jigsaw puzzles with disdain, hoping I didn’t get one in return. I almost always did.
Christmas was the best time to visit the shopping center because it was the only one in town that put up Christmas displays in the windows. We would walk past each storefront and pause to enjoy the animated characters moving slowly as “Silver Bells” or “Here Comes Santa Claus” played over a speaker somewhere. Rolls of cotton “snow” covered the tables set up for the wintery scenes, and Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus moved their arms a bit stiffly as a train set ran around an oval track surrounding them. Brightly colored Christmas lights, the large bulbs glowing like illuminated bonbons, framed the windows edged in snow that came in a spray can.
Now the huge sheet glass windows are covered with burglar bars, a complete reversal from the innocent make-believe of my childhood. I never thought of this part of town as particularly dangerous, but I guess they must feel the need. It makes me sad to see what was a happy destination for my eight-year-old self reduced to such an ominous edifice. I hear the engine of the lone car crank up and decide maybe I should make my way home, to a place warm and familiar and constant. Pulling out onto the street, I mentally say farewell to yesterday and continue onward.