Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Corner Drug Store, or No Counter for Old Men

Rexall Drug Store was one of two drug stores in my little home town. Curiously enough, this tiny town supported not one drug store, but two. Two! There was the corner Rexall Drug Store, and another one, whose name is lost to me right now. They were just steps apart, but with a side street separating them. Ah, but what a separation it was. Even as a child, I felt there was a difference between the two stores, an invisible gap. My family went to the older drug store, the one with the dull wooden floors with help who knew my father's name, not the shiny new Rexall store with the soda fountain. I remember the pie shaped stoop (really a Isoceles trapezoid, thank you very much Wikipedia), wooden, with a thick sort of threshold to step over. The door was glass in a wooden frame, sturdy and substantial...the kind of door that open/closed signs swung from a string on. Today would we find the shopkeeper removing the high threshold so people wouldn't trip and sue? Makes one wonder.

This drug store eventually went out of business, leaving the shiny new Rexall to fill the town's need for prescription drugs, lotions and potions, and soda. There was a long counter with stools, and behind the counter were all the wonderful stainless steel compartments and pumps and ladles behind which hid a wonderous array of syrups and toppings.

Besides the counter, there were a few tables, maybe three or four or five. On any given morning one could find men surrounding a table or two, having coffee and chatting. At first glance these men appeared to be having their morning coffee, maybe discussing a fellow friend, maybe talking about the kids, maybe bitching about the government - in the old-fashioned way they had, not the new, 1970's style of rioting.

What lie under the surface of these men, though, was a binding thread that only they could see. The thread of war. These men - and the mixture changed up from day to day - went to war together. They didn't necessarily fight side by side, but they were the boys of this small town who volunteered to fight the Germans and the Japanese. They fought through the cold winters of Germany, the steamy heat of Guam, and all shades in between. These men left for war with little experience of the world beyond their own small town experiences, but when our nation asked for their service, they gave it. They gave, and gave and gave. They didn't question what they would miss out on at home, they didn't question whether they should go to college as few would have had that opportunity regardless, they didn't second guess if it was the right thing to do. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, all bets were off, they had a job to do. And now, decades later sitting in the Rexall Drug Store, looking at a friend across the table, were they really seeing the friend across a fire built in the snow on a cold day in Germany?

These men grew up during the depression, they knew hard living and knew that complaining was a waste of their breath. Instead, they choose to put their efforts into fighting a war, surviving the war, holding hope that they would return to loved ones and babies born in their absence. These men were manly, and manly men worked hard, found a girl they loved, married her, supported their family and lived a quiet life, without asking for glory or even recognition of the greatness that their contribution was. They knew, and that was enough.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Losing the Last Parent

Just four short weeks ago, I buckled myself into my car and headed from Kansas City to Baudette, Minnesota.

Not for fun. Not to visit friends and family for the holiday weekend. Not for a wild and crazy weekend with those nutty Minnesotans.

It was to say goodbye to my mother.

Dad died five and a half years ago and now I must find a way to say goodbye to the last person on the face of this earth who must love me unconditionally. It's a feeling that I was not prepared to face. I was woefully unprepared to face this new lifestyle, but to have eventually gather myself up and actually live it is painful to face. Every day.

My mom was beautiful, and smart, and a great mom, and a good cook, and a great forgiver, amongst other gifts. My mom knew how to love her family. It may sound like a simple gift or talent to possess, but I think most people would agree that loving someone, always, is not necessarily an easy task. Who can not look around at this moment and wish that they could either receive or give that kind of love?

My miss my mom, but the truth is, I've missed her for a couple of years. I miss calling my mom and talking about my kids - their problems, their achievements, their gifts to this world. I miss asking my mom for advice on anything from cooking to sewing to traveling to childrearing. There was not much I could not discuss with my mom. When growing up my friends would complain about their mothers, have fights with their mothers, yell, scream, slam doors, pitch royal fits. They had drama! I have no memory of hearing my mother's voice raised in anger to me, nor did I ever raise mine to her. Never a slammed door. No drama. Just pure, unconditional love.

As I was going through the few items I brought home from Minnesota, I came across a tiny little book, gifted to my mom by me in 1994. It's a wee little book filled with quotes about mothers. Inside the cover I wrote "I shall never stop trying to be as good a mother as you. Love always and forever, Me". Inside the little book were tucked a variety of photos....the variety is so funny! My brother's sophmore picture from 1970, my engagement picture, my wedding picture, a picture of my sister-in-law with her children, a picture of my four kids circa 1989, and various school pictures of my kids. I want to believe that even on those days in which my mother didn't know who she was, she could still look at these pictures and know those were people who loved her. Because, oh my, we loved her. And we ache for her touch today.