When I was a kid, we could walk to Mr. Austin's. Austin Capps was a grocer. This was an early supermarket. The day was not entirely passed in many towns when one bought one's groceries from a tiny corner grocery, which sent a delivery boy to bring it to you. The day for milkmen had just passed.
Austin's had fruit, vegetables, bread, milk ,meat and endless cans of all sorts of things. This was a time when people, inexplicably made things involving canned tuna, mayonaisse and stray unidentifiable bits and called it a "salad". I used to love things like the odd oysters canned sardine-style.
In the Austin's parking lot, I lost control of my first 10-speed, and somehow managed to collide with my brother's 10-speed, bending its wheel at a 45 degree angle. I remember still the look on my brother's face when I was unable to brake as I ran into his bike from the side.
We got our Halloween costumes at Austin's--plastic capes and cheap plastic masks. We got our Christmas trees there--little scotch pines, except for the year with a tree shortage, when we got a more common local pine or cedar. We could buy magazines there---I remember reading about the Ramones and the Talking Heads and the New York Dolls and Wayne County and Television, long before one could even buy their records. We could buy Led Zeppelin or the Doobie Brothers or Seals and Crofts for 5 dollars an LP at Austin's.
We used to collect coke bottles from ditches and roadways to trade for spare change there. We used to buy nickel candy bars there. Mr. Austin called me "little doc" because my dad was a country doctor.
He was always kind to me.
After I got out of high school, one of my former classmates tried to strong arm rob Mr. Austin, but was somehow caught. Mr. Austin died some years ago. Another supermarket ended up with the business. Austin's store is now sitting empty.
I could walk from our back yard to Austin's in five minutes. The church was just across the street. My dad's clinic was also a five minute walk away, across from the hospital. The old hospital building is a husk of its former self, with an Italian restaurant incongruously located in part of the imperfectly preserved building.
I watched the warehouse down a gravel road from Austin's go up in flames after a vagrant lit a fire amid the bales of hay inside. This was decades ago. At Halloween, I bought orange wax candy whistles, shaped like little harmonicas. I remember how cool it was inside that grocery. I remember buying baseball cards there, and chewing the odd sticks of gum within the pack. I remember the sound of aerosol cans as they exploded when we burned the trash. I remember an older man who wore white spats as he walked into town. I remember the African violets kept by the woman at the dry cleaner's. I remember the smile on a cute teen's face as I followed her, exiting the grocery--that knowledge that someone found her attractive. I remember muzak and candy valentine hearts. I remember the whorls of ground beef. I remember the sound of Austin's chuckle, and the way the universe of my childhood was an unfailingly centered place.