A common theme in some of the television shows I watched when I was a kid had to do with community. “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” had the Neighborhood of Make Believe and “Sesame Street” had the segment called Who are the People in your Neighborhood? “Dusty’s Treehouse” and the “New Zoo Revue” also centered around interactions with people close to you, not necessarily family.
When my mom and I would run errands, (a quick aside – I thought for years that “run errands” was one word – runerrands, and that it was an all-encompassing term meaning to go to the gas station, the bank, the dry cleaners, my mom’s best friend’s house, etc.) we’d almost always wind up at the grocery store.
There were three entrances to the grocery store. For some reason, my mom usually picked the one by the wine and liquor section. This is most likely because the adjacent parking lot was the closest to the bank which we almost always had visited immediately before (another quick aside – you used to have to go into the bank and talk with someone to obtain money in those pre-ATM days, which is why a bank teller was often someone listed as someone in your neighborhood).
There were plenty of displays set up to entice. I mean, I couldn’t be enticed, obviously, as I was a ten-year-old and the only alcohol I’d ever had was a sip of “burny stuff” (probably brandy?) my dad would let me have just before I scampered off to bed so he and Mom and their friends could play Bridge. But the colors were bright and the varied, there were cardboard replicas of bottles twirling atop large piles of gift boxes. It was cool and dim for the most part, with some spotlights on special featured items.
Quite often, there was a man behind the counter. He knew everything about alcohol. My mom would ask about the best wine or spirit for a recipe, or if she and Dad were having those Bridge friends over, she’d ask for suggestions about what accompanying alcohol would be best to serve before, during, and after dinner (aside – it was the 1970’s, people drank a lot back then).
While he and my mom were talking I’d stay close to her, reading anything nearby (alcohol ads have never been very wordy, unfortunately), holding her hand. After he’d talk to my mom, he’d peer over the counter at me, as I was shorter than the counter. He always spoke kindly and softly to me. I remember once he gave me a box that had a beautiful red rose on the cover. It was the kind of box expensive bottles of liquor come in. The inside of the box was yellow, the outside was green and the cover slid onto the front of the box. The cover was soft, it had some sort of foam underneath the picture of the rose. I adored that box. I found what felt like a thousand uses for it – it held keepsakes, it was a stage for my little people dolls, it propped a book up if I needed it to.
The guy behind the counter in the wine and liquor section at the grocery store? He was a part of my neighborhood. He was part of my community. I sometimes wondered why Mr. Rogers never mentioned the guy at the liquor counter, and the muppets on Sesame Street never had a segment devoted to the man who can direct you to the best wine. I did!
Your community is comprised of whom you choose to fill it with, or if you’re a child, with whom your parents decide it should be filled. Give a thought, the next time you’re out and about in your neighborhood, to who exactly is in your community. I bet there are a lot of people that you know who will make the kind gesture, and simultaneously simply be doing their job. That’s reassuring to me, that as wide and unwieldy as our communities can become, they’re still filled with nice people.
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