I’ve been thinking much about family these last few weeks. Maybe it’s because Christmas is coming. Maybe it’s because I miss them as I’m living in Michigan and they are all spread out in California. No matter what the reason, I’ve been thinking about them. Memories are weird things. They hit you at the wrong time and come out my eyes like liquid dreams. It could be a phrase, a song, a word. And then the memory hits and I begin to travel back in time to that moment, that reality, that world in which I was in way back when. It takes a tug of the heart to pull me back to the present, but the memory is still there, still present, still alive. And in the liquid dreams I cry.
There are times when my mind travels back to the busines my grandparents owned while I was in middle school and high school and into college. It was a for-profit thrift store. We lovingly called it: The Store. They didn’t really make money off of it but it was there place. It was our place. It was my haven from the world.
It was a hot and sweaty summer where we began working at the store. My brother, sister, and I working tirelessly to scrape and shovel out old tile. It was once a butcher shop and the tile on the floor had to go. My grandfather watched us and was glad to point out what we missed and how to put my back into it. Soon carpet was laid down over the concrete floor now tileless. Racks were put up, shelves were put in place, and my grandfather and I built a wall between where the store front would be and the back work area might exist. It was in the back area where my grandmother would sit working on items, smoking her cigarettes and drinking her weak coffee.
I was in eighth grade when the store finally opened. My grandfather and I in an old beaten up sky blue Ford pickup years past the scrap heap would go to the Goodwill and buy stuff to be sold at The Store. Clothing packed in barrels that smelled oddly like garlic. Today even the hint of garlic brings me back to those Saturday mornings, waiting for the Good Will to open up so that we could pounce on what might be sold later. I had a paper route then as well. We lived with my grandparents at the time. I would get up early in the morning, my grandmother, an early riser, would be waiting for me with a cup of coffee filled with cream and sugar, or cream and sugar with a bit of coffee. She would smoke her cigarette and do the cross word puzzle as I drank my caffeine and headed out to do my paper route, rain or not. I’d return and she would still be doing her puzzle, smoking, and have another mug of cream and sugar and coffee waiting for me. It was expected that I be at The Store after school to help out.
It was at The Store where family would meet. If I came in the front door and heard classic rock playing softly in the back, I knew my uncle was watching The Store that day. Later after high school, sometimes I’d hear a squeal of joy and know that my sister had brought my niece for a visit, she was so small then. Sometimes my mom would come to just say hello. We would gather there, talk, eat Mexican food from the store around the corner or Chinese food from Chester’s a few doors down. Family was there. The Store brought us together.
Other times I would come through the back door, parking my bike along the side entry way. There’d be an old couch they couldn’t sell or a desk too big. My grandfather had a hammer waiting for me to destroy it and put it in the dumpster. I’d work out my anger and angst on those things, feeling better once I was done. Other times they would put my back to work, helping pick up unwanted things from garage sales or stacking new inventory on the back shelves. My grandmother, tired of me taking her cigarettes all the time, began paying me instead of cash under the table but with cartons of cigarettes. I didn’t tell my mom until my grandmother’s funeral in 2012.
The Store lasted for eight years. Years I would never want to lose. Years that were important to me. The Store taught me about life, about helping people in need. I think my grandmother gave away more than she sold. It was at the store where I learned compassion for people. It was at The Store where I learned the value of hard work. It was at The Store where I learned the importance of family. And it was at The Store where I learned about grief.
I had been in community college, working other jobs in retail and enjoying time with friends. I didn’t know the state that The Store was in. It wasn’t good. It was a nice April day, the clouds were just right, the sun was singing, and my mom told me the news, The Store was closing. Or in fact, I learned as I rode there as fast as I could, The Store had closed. When I arrived, my grandmother was sitting in her usual spot, no coffee, no cigarettes. Just her and my grandfather, the store was a shell of what it was. The shelves we had put up that one summer eight years ago were empty, their contents long gone. The counter where the register was, missing. The Store was a shell, empty, lonely. I cried. It was gone.
Memories. They come and they go. My grandmother went into the gates of glory back in 2012. My grandfather and uncle both passed back in 2018. All I have now are my memories. All I have of The Store now is but glimpses of the past and what I learned over those eight years. I am glad for those eight years. They taught me so much. I lived so much. And in that time, I grew. Those memories are mine and no one can take them away. As are the liquid dreams that come down in tears from my eyes when I remember both the good times and bad that we lived in with The Store.