Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
Where have all the canaries, barrettes, and pomades gone?
Why did it bother me when I read about the closing or possible re-designing of 970 nationwide Woolworths? How often had I actually been inside my local one for items or even food at its luncheonette?
Woolworths, the place, had been part of my life; its vanishing took pieces of the past with it.
Long ago, the leather soles of my shoes sounded harsh hitting the hardwood floors of my neighborhood Woolworths. My first canary, in its wooden cage, was selected by bird sounds from the back of the store. Sure my goldfish had come from there, too, but a canary really needed care not just flakes of food as fish received.
White flat pumps, with thin ankle straps, echoed on that floor. They were bought for my elementary school graduation; the white pique dress with its eyelet pique cap sleeves had to be handsewn by all girl graduates during required sewing class. My sewing thread came from Woolworths. For graduation, I wanted the special perfume only that store carried in small purple bottles.
I stopped at the soda fountain, no longer a child swinging in circles on the round counter stool, and got a milkshake. The straw clogged, yet if I sipped from the glass a fluffy mustache of ice cream formed on my upper lip.
I knew I'd be 'old' when the movie theatre on the same street allowed me to sit in the adult section, though I wasn't eligible for three more years. But, after I marched down an aisle to "Pomp and Circumstance" carrying an old-fashioned bouquet, fragrant from that purple bottle scent bought with my allowance, I could stop buying red lip pomade and actually wear real lipstick. Of course it'd come from Woolworths!
The big Woolworths in New York City, near Penn Station, had a drink-you-eat-with-a-spoon. No treat was as exciting for that was the very only Woolworths I knew about that served this thick ice-cream-like-liquid that was too heavy to drink yet light enough to use a long handled spoon.
I bought a sterling silver barrette in the city, and an engraver put my first name on it as I waited. Securing it in my limp flaxen hair, I felt it was an award.
Sure, the gadget floor of nearby Macy's had wonder, but only for my mother. I preferred merely to place my feet on the wooden escalator strips and just ride. But Woolworths had underwear, perfume, school supplies, pets, embroidery material, curtains, knitting needles, buttons, toys, costumes, party goods....
Commuting to graduate school, I'd finally outgrown a Woolworth lunch counter, pet section, perfume, and even got my school supplies at the college bookstore. But, when my first child was born, my daily carriage walk was to Woolworths. As if I wanted to expose him to the mystery of the store, I made an excuse for that walk, lifting him in my arms and carrying him while the English Pram parked outside.
Sometimes I gambled with the balloons suspended from umbrellas at the lunch counter: I selected a specific one, a waitress popped it, and the price printed on a folded slip would be the one paid for a banana split sundae. I never quite got too old for this.
I moved to western New York State; all stores in the Rochester region were closed by the end of January 1994. I remember bringing my three children to rotate on plastic counter stools waiting for lunch. The floors were vinyl, and no purple flacon of fragrance was available. I'd never seen the drink-you-eat-with-a-spoon except in Manhattan, but I showed my children the canaries, and seasonal costumes, and picture frames, and toys, and....
When the Sears catalog ceased, it wasn't really an end to mail-order books. And FAX machines made telegrams obsolete. Escalators are metal, and some landmarks or large department stores in every town have changed or been torn down. But the 5 & 10 has be remembered by those past middle-aged and older, and missed.
published Feb. 19, 1994 The Sacramento Bee Op-Ed Page ©1994McClatchy News
reprinted Spring 2002 Heroes from Hackland
reprinted September 2015 Clear Mt.
reprinted October 2015 go60.us