A partner who calls herself Madame George and who regularly posts on our message boards wrote this piece about growing up in a small town and about how similar that can be to watching your husband transition. I thought it was a beautiful piece, wistful, affirming, full of love but also change.
Growing up in a small town has its perks. Small town shop owners know you by name. In fact most times they know your family and your entire life story. That’s how it was growing up here. It’s one of my fondest memories of growing up in a small town. It has changed over the years and many of the shop owners that I knew are now gone. The store fronts now boasting dazzling electronics, plastic knick knacks, and country crafts. Gone is the independent pharmacist, the neighborhood greasy diner, and the ten cents store. Gone are the comforts of the past.
I loved the days when my mother would need something from the neighborhood drug store. There was a small one nearby that was complete with a soda fountain. It’s how I met Mr. Reider. An independent pharmacist whose shop was not far from my school. I knew him well. He knew my entire family well. He had a great store and seemed to always be adding unusual finds into his display cases and racks on a daily basis. It was probably more like a monthly basis, but to my young eyes I seemed to always find new items to wonder over. A favorite of mine was a metal bank depicting a monkey with it’s arms stretched wide. The one where you put a coin in one hand and you gently pulled the other one down and the coin would roll down its arm into a slot hidden ingeniously in the side of its head. Another favorite was the little porcelain nesting dolls with their funny looking painted faces. I remember well his gentle words of warning each time I would pick a set up. Never scolding, just a friendly reminder to be careful.
If I could keep my younger brother and sister from upsetting Mother then she would be more inclined to buy us a treat from the soda fountain. That usually was a big if. They seemed to find any reason to squabble which more than likely would give her more than enough reason to deny us the favor. Sometimes I would have some pennies with me and I would buy them each two pieces of Bazooka gum. I always hoped that having a big wad of sugar in their mouths would keep them quiet and content. Rarely did it work, but I was tenacious even at that age.
As I got older I would often stop by that little shop on the corner after school to look at the merchandise, say hello to Mr. Reider, and maybe, if I had money, a treat for myself. The store barely changed over the years. When I graduated high school it was still the little pharmacy where my family went for prescriptions and school children went for penny candy and a vanilla coke made with real vanilla. It was comforting in some small way to know that it was there. A constant through my childhood. A place where I could go and sit on a stool at the counter like I did when I was 6. The only difference being that my feet could now touch the floor.
I returned home for a holiday during my junior year of college and noticed a sign in the window of my beloved corner shop. I drove around the block to get a better look at what it said. To my dismay it said that the shop would be closing forever in a week. I could barely believe it. Mother hadn’t said anything about Mr. Reider being ill. My heart sank as I drove the rest of the way to her house. I was heartbroken to find the shop was closing because of the skyrocketing medical insurance premiums. Mr. Reider just couldn’t afford them anymore and had already accepted a pharmacy management position at one of the big chains that had recently begun building a mega-store on the other end of town. A construction issue had caused a week delay for the scheduled opening. He had actually planned on closing the week before, but had decided to keep it open until the new store opened. I felt like a piece of my home was being taken from me.
I found time the next day to go over to that wonderful little shop. Few things had changed even then. The 50’s bar stools with their red vinyl covers looked a little more worn that I remembered. Maybe the shelves were a little more sparsely stocked too. Mr. Reider was there though. His beaming smile and his warm eyes lit up when he recognized me. We chatted for a short time and I gave my condolences for the loss of his beloved little shop. He nodded sadly and offered to make me his special version of a vanilla coke which was a favorite of mine. I was touched that he still remembered that. As he busied himself I took the opportunity to look around for old time’s sake. Fingering the little porcelain figurines, the glass bells, the miniature marionettes, and the funny nesting dolls I had loved to look at as a child. It was then that I realized that I was looking around on borrowed time. If not for the delay the shop would already be closed. Tears welled up in my eyes and threatened to spill down my cheeks. I heard Mr. Reider place the glass on the counter. I took a deep breath, sucked in my sadness, and walked over to that beloved old counter to drink my coke, chat with my friend, and soak in what I could during the rest of my borrowed time.
I went back to school the next day with a heavy heart. It seemed things at home were changing rapidly. My small town wasn’t as small as I remembered. The changes were hard to process. I wondered what my next trip home would bring news of. I dreaded the thought as I drove up the exit ramp that lead to the university. School, of course, forced my attention away from such thoughts. It nagged at the back of my mind, but was no match for advanced mathematical theory, econometrics, and the demands of often tyrannical professors. It was probably a blessing for me.
We live in that same small town now. The shop on the corner has changed hands many times in the last few years. Going from a card and gift shop to a bookkeeper’s shop to the present day secondhand gaming shop. The kids love going there. They never fail to find a game they absolutely must have. The old soda fountain is gone. As well as the worn counter and the vinyl covered bar stools. In their place is a glass counter filled with the latest discarded games for handhelds. Across the way where the nesting dolls once beckoned my touch are now shelves and shelves of pc games. My love often wonders over there to look for a new find. His countenance causing my heart to skip a beat like it has for so many years. A comfort for me.
I find it poignant as I watch him scan the titles with his eyes. It is only a matter of time before the adoption is final. Then we are free of these legal bonds that tie us to secrecy and to this small town. We will move and Jenn will be free to emerge. Slowly and circumspectly at first, ever watchful of my reaction and the children’s ability to understand. John and Jenn blending at first, with Jenn eventually taking hold and John disappearing into the recesses of my memories. Just as I wondered around this little store and took my final look on borrowed time, now I look upon the well known face and body of my love on borrowed time.