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Thursday, 20 September 2007

Downtown is Gone Forever

By kenju of Imagine What I'm Leaving Out

I'll never forget the first time I was allowed to walk through town alone. I asked if I could walk to my grandmother's house which was a good mile and a half away. I was six or seven, and I felt so grown-up. Little did I know that my Mom was following me in the car about a block behind.

The following summer, when I was playing with a group of friends, we went onto a bridge near our houses and I stuck my head through the bars of the railings to see what was in the water beneath the bridge. Stupid me couldn't pull my head back through the bars and the fire department had to be called.

They finally coaxed me out by having me twist my head to the side. I like to say now that my ears were so big I couldn't pull my head out. Maybe that's why an old boyfriend told me that when my hair was in a ponytail, I looked like a Cadillac head-on with the front doors open.

There were two diners in our town; I remember one of them called the Quarrier Diner. I took some classes in a building across the street from the diner and every morning we would order grilled sweet rolls. I can still conjure up their taste - as near to heaven as I am likely to get.

Back then I could eat stuff like that everyday and never gain an ounce. They also had excellent barbecue sandwiches and I have never been able to find another one like it. Speaking of Quarrier, I remember reading that the only street in the world with that name is in Charleston, West Virginia.

I used to work in the Diamond Department Store, multi-floored and fabulous, back in the 50s. I started there as a member of their College Board one summer and worked as a gift wrapper, model, sales clerk and finally their personal shopper.

This was a great job, as I got to spend other people's money buying gifts for people who didn't have the time or the inclination to shop. It was a little like going out on a treasure hunt each time we had an order, and some were easier to fill than others.

Once a young man came in to buy Christmas gifts for his fiancee and I helped him spend $100, which was a whopping sum back in the day. Turns out she had been one of my junior high school classmates and she loved all the stuff I picked out for her.

The Diamond had a snack bar as well as a cafeteria, and you could run into many people you knew by eating there. If I had a dime for every time I sat at that counter...

I used to go to the local Woolworth's Five and Dime (as they used to be called) and buy doll clothes, candy, gum and toys. That store had a smell that permeated the whole building, and I think it was stale hot-dog chili, emanating from the lunch counter. I spent many an hour there, looking and dreaming as only a small girl can.

I also spent many hours in the library. In the summer, Mom would take me there every week and I would check-out ten to twelve books and read every one before they were due.

Parades in small towns are usually fun. As a member of the local Rainbow Girls close-order drill team, I marched in many parades, up and down The Boulevard, which is the main drag, beside the Kanawha River. When we came to the viewing stand, usually filled by city dignitaries (or wannabees), we would stop and show off our latest drill, except that we were holding batons, not guns.

Two years ago, I got to see the Marine Corps Drill Team perform at Marine Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and they did it with such style and grace it was amazing. They hold real guns with bayonets attached. Part of their drill is to toss those guns back and forth to each other and viewers are certain that someone will lose a body part. But it appears they seldom, if ever, make a mistake.

I said in the title that downtown was gone forever. In Charleston, it isn't gone as completely as in some other cities. The reason is that space is so limited there; due to the rivers and mountains, stores and malls only have just so much area to build in. Consequently, there still remains a vestige of the way it used to be.

But in my mind, it is gone forever. Too bad that small town America has gone poof like smoke from a bonfire.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


The America we knew is lost! Some of it I mourn; some of it should be gone. Thanks for a walk through the past, Judy!

Thanks Judy for this vivid story of walking your hometown streets. It has been many years since I thought about my small hometown in central California. You have inspired me to remember my own walks.

We never had a car when I was growing up so walking was our mode of tranportation. I lived right by our elementary school and that was a treat becasue I was allowed to go home for lunch. We would walk to our Catholic Church, always mindful not to walk under the many trees because we did not want an unexpected "offering" from the birds on our hats!

One of my favorite walks was to the JC Penney store. I loved to watch the old cylinders that would be filled with purchase tickets and flung along a wire up to the office and then flung back down with the correct change and the write up ticket stamped paid. I actually got to do some flinging of my own when I asked the clerk if I could sling the cylinder along the wire...I had forgotten this until reading your story today. Thanks for providing me with the impetus for my own townwalk memory.


You made me think back to my hometown and all the many places I frequented Judy. You're right...it's truly not the same, and sometimes that really saddens me. Everything changes, but noone can take away our memories. This was a very sweet nostalgic piece.

Thanks to all of you, and to Ronni too.

Wow, Judy, I didn't know about this website. How cool! I'll be back!

Yeah, when I used to tour a lot I loved to go into the small towns and find the local "Mom & Pop" restaurant, because their "from scratch" attitude fit my palate just find.

I loved this!! so glad I came by to read it. Although I am younger..I remember many of the same things about town life growing up in a small mountain town...much of it has changed now...I miss the small mainstreet stores...everyone knew who the store belonged too...family businesses and personalized service.

I enjoyed walking with you through your hometown.

Made me think of all the changes I have seen - what bothers me the most is what they have done to my favorite summer place - Revere Beach -

They can't take away the sand and the ocean but all that other good stuff is gone. now there are high rise Condos in place of the rides, the hot dogs, the fresh pop corn, frozen custard, the summer concerts and Punks Corner where the boys and girls would meet.

Those were the days!!

Good tale, Judy. Yes, it brought back memories.

My "growing-up town" was so small we just had a little "general store" and a drug store. I thought that general store was huge. I went back as an adult and realized how tiny it really was compared to a WalMart!


Such vivid memories and wonderfully described! Of course I loved reading about the Diamond !

Oh Judy...your story brought back so very many meeories of the small town I grew up in...not disimilar to yours, at all....just different names, etc....Where I grew up was seventeen miles outside of Manhatten, but it could have been right where you were....! Great story!

Judy - In some places there remain viable small towns; New England is RIFE with them, which is probably the only reason I miss living there.

That being said, the freedom the we had as young kids is probably gone forever and that robs the small towns and bg ones of some of their magic. I won't let my kids just roam the neightborhood like I used to. That kind of thing is too scary for me to think about right now.

Great memories, thanks for sharing!

nice memories Kenju, I still live in a town with a downtown--for a town of 7500, we have a good hardware store, a deli, a coffee shop and a wonderful microbrewery!

If only there were city ordinances and rules that could think far enough into the future to not only let a town grow and prosper but keep the charm.

It's amazing how quickly freedoms are consumed by societal constitution

michele sent me, but would have made my way over anyway

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