“Was it really that different?” the kid asked.
“As I remember it, things have changed a great deal,” I told him.
“In those days, in Cortez, you could still park diagonal on Main Street. There was parking meters that looked a lot like the ones Paul Newman was cutting off with a pipe cutter at the base in the opening scenes of Cool Hand Luke.”
The boy was fascinated, so I continued.
“No Wal-Mart, not even K-Mart yet, but the stores up and down Main Street did a pretty good business. Right there on the corner was a bakery that would drive you crazy with the smell of yeasty, glazed doughnuts as you pulled into park. You could smell them all the way down in front of J.C. Penney’s, and maybe farther.”
I thought about how Penney’s seemed to almost be the center of things then.
“Penney’s was a big stone-faced, two-story building with a whole lot of everything in there at the time. Clothes for man, woman and child. One whole side had endless bolts of cloth, sewing good and patterns. Clothes upstairs on the balcony, shoes toward the back, under the balcony, and they even had vinyl records near the register station in the center. I remember buying a copy of Frampton Comes Alive, back then.”
But down past the bakery, across one street, past the little café, Woolworth sold records too. The “Dime Store” kept them in a sectioned off area with their black light posters, lava lamps, incense burners, etc…
“But at the ‘Dime Store’ the big draw was the animals toward the back, mice, hamsters, fish, an occasional snake … fascinating to me, at the time. It is kind of fuzzy, but in early memories, I think the fountain and lunch counter was still operating then,” I remembered.
They had toys, for sure, rubber snakes, plastic armies, and a helium tank. Take a shot and you talk like Donald Duck, as evidenced by the high school clerks that filled the child’s balloons.
But that wasn’t the only place for toys. Across the street and down a block or two on the corner was the old V & G Variety Store. Always an interesting place, though I guess I was a little buffaloed by cigar-smoking fellow that ran it at the time. “You break it, you buy it,” he warned once as I was roughhousing with a friend in the aisle.
A little farther down, across another side street, the Toggery, for more clothes, or if of a Western bent, maybe Nuway for boots, shoes, jeans, maybe even a saddle. The two sporting good stores across Main Street from each other, later were always interesting. Baseball gloves, hunting rifles, skis, shotguns and knifes. Sometimes, I felt like I died and went to survivalist heaven.
On the streets near there were the banks, the Fiesta Movie Theatre (only one screen, then), Court House and much more. It seemed to be a lively place then, though I assume it still is.
“Circling around back to where we parked back then, I also recall the worn, wooden floors of the bookstore,” I told the kid. “Incense was always burning in there too, while you browsed through the latest Doc Savage serials and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Land that Time Forgot and Tarzan stories. I loved the place,” I said.
“But I guess, I sort miss it all.”
There is something in the pang of change, like we leave behind a part of ourselves. “Was it really that different?”
I thought again of the boy’s question. I felt the pang, and a part of me answered.
“Yes, I guess it was.”