Kresge Lunch Counter
There was nothing more yearned for. Nothing better. Saturday mornings we would rattle around the backseat of the big squared off Oldsmobile, sliding off the vinyl seats onto the floorboards at every stop light, mashing our faces into the windows every time that behemoth gingerly creaked around a corner. When the car finally shuddered and sighed to a stop that was our signal. Shove the doors open!
Just us. We were free!
Two ten year olds, each one of us with three single dollar bills curled into our hands. A small fortune. We wandered from Maple to Woodward and back around to the park. Press through to the doors of the Continental Market, to scurry like rabbits through that warren of tiny shops. Scented candles, ladies magazines and beaded blouses. A whole store that only sold clogs. A general store that sold everything else.
At the store she would always buy a tiny bag of salted peanuts. I had to have jelly beans.
Then a swing around to the twirly seats at the Kresge’s lunch counter. The counterman wore a bow tie. He wore a paper hat with the slight power tilt of a king’s crown.
Red Pop or Faygo Rock ’n Rye was squirted expertly into a paper cone that was tucked into a metal holder. Double striped paper straws.
A serious study of the menu always yielded the same results. Grilled cheese for her. Tuna for me. Both were cut on same diagonal and placed on the plates just so. Tiny paper cups of potato salad and coleslaw.
If we put our last quarters together we could afford a scoop of ice cream to share. Some weeks her favorite, chocolate. Other weeks my favorite, vanilla. Two spoons, two friends. Unfettered and on on our own. The world was ours!
I’m pretty sure no one ever actually knew where we were. The screen doors slammed and we were off. A few twists to the tetherball and we would start out. Walking down the street the group snowballed together, adding kid after kid, getting bigger and bigger. We were all together.
Where would we go?
Sneak to the creek to catch tadpoles?
Jungle gym through the half built house down the block?
March to the drug store for Bazooka and Tootsie Rolls and Turkish Taffy?
The choice was ours. The world was ours!
It was evening and the setting sun made the spring sky soft and hazy and cotton candy sweet.
From our house we actually could hear the cracks of the bats and the muffled shouts, and imagine that we were enrobed by the puffs of dust kicked up from sneakered feet. We could go over and watch, our faces pressed up against the fenced backstop our fingers curling over the edges.
There are three fields, three games on each. We drift from game to game as if we’re changing channels.
The players don’t preen. They play. Their team t-shirts and hats worn with pride, the jeans are dirty and worn in the right places from sliding and climbing.. There are never any grown ups, save the coaches for each team. Why would there be? Little League, little kids. Grown ups had other things to do with their time. And so did we.
At the end the wagon train of Chevys and Buicks and Fords circle up. They flip open their trunks to reveal true treasure: can after can of ice cold pop!
The choice was ours.
Keys and cash and clothes and cars. Go here, do this, remember that. Juggle the schedule, balance the checkbook, add the tip. We are individual tornados spiking into the ground, information peppering and pestering at us from every side.
Is the choice mine?
Some of it? Most of it? A little of it? Does it matter?
No matter what, minutes and moments are always there for the taking. I grab them, hoard them, treasure them. Moments still to think and dream. To think and explore and to be free. The choice then is mine. the world then, is still truly mine.
No matter what, still and always unfettered and free!