Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Three Blocks to C.A.'s Grocery

"Hi, Mama". . .the screen door slamming behind me.
"Hi, Honey. . .You're just in time. . .I want you to run to C. A.'s. . .
I need a jar of Miracle Whip and you might as well pick up a loaf of bread and a quart of milk, too."
"Can I have some Rex Jelly?"
I never missed a chance to ask.
"Not today. . .We have homemade peach and strawberry already open."
Why did we have to eat homemade jam and jelly anyway? Rex was my pick. Nothing in this world as good as Rex Jelly on buttered toast or Sunday biscuits. I didn't much like Mom's biscuits but a big dollop of Rex made them go down a whole lot easier. I much preferred Granny's fluffy biscuits. . .and she always had Rex Jelly on hand. . .Yep. . .In the biscuit category, my Granny made the best.
As I thought about the mysteries of the adult world and how they think,  I grabbed the bright blue Schwinn bike that Santa brought the Christmas before and headed the three blocks to C. A.'s. . . .When the store was in sight, I scanned the possibilities for parking my bike. . . .As usual there were already bikes there. . .leaning against the porch. . .I'd have to park mine on the other side from where I normally put it. . .A minor inconvenience.
Farmhands fresh from their day's work in the field sat on the porch. . .smoking cigarettes. . .eating crackers and cheese. . .sipping on Cokes and Pepsi. . .talking about how hot the day had been. . .and their plans for Saturday's trip 'to town'. . .hardly noticing me as I propped my bike against the porch. . . .I nodded to the sweet old lady next door. . .sitting on the porch of her shotgun house. . .She never failed to say "Hello"  and I always smiled and returned the favor. . .Nearly every time I made a trip to C. A.'s, she was sitting on that porch. . .watching all the comings and goings from a friendly distance. . .It seemed to fill her days.
Quickly I bounded up the old cypress steps and past the men. . .Mom had warned me to never talk to strangers. . .I could smell the mixture of oiled floors, fried 'something', bags of onions and potatoes and ripe bananas drifting through the screen door. . .Oh that screen door . . .In my entire lifetime of store visits, that screen door squeeked open and shut with a loud bang every single time.
"Hello, Little Bit!" . . .that was me.
"Hello, Sissy" . . .my pet name for C. A.
 . . .because he wore the large, white bibbed apron of a butcher. . .Most times we'd find him behind the meat counter--back among the hams and bologna. In those days slices of sandwich meats or pork chops or bacon--well, any kind of meat--were cut, weighed and wrapped in white paper, the price marked on top with a grease pencil.
I continued on my mission. . .grabbing Mom's order and nothing else. . .I did check the Rex Jelly on the lower shelf below the Miracle Whip. . .just to be sure C. A. still carried it. . .When I'd gathered all together, I placed the three items on  the counter in the center of the room for Juanita (C. A.'s wife) to write down the charges on our ledger. . .Daddy would settle up with them at the end of the month.
"Come here a minute, Little Bit."
Those were the sweetest words I'd heard. . .because I knew what was coming. . .On rare occasions it had happened before. . .
"Whatcha need, Sissy?"
 I rounded the corner and stepped to the other side of the meat counter. . .No words. . .just a grin. . .as C. A. looked straight ahead passing me a couple of crackers with peanut butter spread smooth, topped with that shimmering, red jewel of my heart's desire. . .REX JELLY. . .in that moment, C. A. was my Prince Charming. . .and didn't seem like an adult at all. . .It was our little secret. . .one we never spoke of. . .especially around Mom. . .or Juanita.
I gobbled the crackers down. . .wiped my face of the evidence. . .gave C. A. a big hug. . .and headed home. . .grinning all the way.
 Many have asked why the bike leans against the porch of C. A. Smith's Grocery at our farmstead today. . .Others know why because their bikes were once parked there, too.
Me? . . I leave it there in fond memory of a man whose small gestures of love has never been forgotten.

"Thank you, Sissy."
C.A. and Juanita Smith, Dell, AR