A tiny corner Mom and Pop grocery store seemed like a magical place to my brother and I in the early 1980's. Especially since it was so out of character that our parents would decide to purchase the little business. Dad thought it would be a good venture for our mom to run. And even though he had a full time job at the local post office, he seemed happy to help her out during any time he had off from work.
First glance inside the old place, our family realized that it was in dire need of fresh new paint and many upgrades. Also, the flooring was bad and the look overall was outdated. Our parents put their creative thinking caps on, and purchased multi-color remnants of carpeting from a rug store in town. The end result was an adorable patchwork-type splash of color for the floor. Shelves were painted, plumbing restored, new fun items were purchased to add to the theme of a fun place to visit and set a spell.
With the help of several others, the new look of the store came together in an old-fashioned way. A glass case sat off to the left when you walked through the door; an old-fashioned tinkling bell announcing your presence. Within the case was an assortment of the magic of childhood. Penny candy sat in colorful cardboard boxes. Gum, candy cigarettes, chewy taffy, and those flying saucers that had an outer shell which reminded us of communion wafers and tiny little candy beads on the inside. Red Swedish fish, gummy bears (Mom swore we were the first to get them in the area!).
Because the store was situated across the street from our town high school, we pre-counted bags of one hundred with the most popular penny candy. After the last bell rang, the kids would flock to the store, and we tried to keep up with them as their fingers pointed out what they wanted as they clutched a wrinkled dollar bill in their hands.
We had the usual staples: bread, milk, pop, a few canned goods and cereals. Mom made fresh daily coffee behind the counter where a few stools stood sentinel. An antique game called "Kicker/Catcher" sat at the edge of the counter where we amused ourselves for long periods of time.
Nothing was as wonderful as the video games near the back of the store. One game in particular stands out in my mind. This was the time of the big standing arcade games. It was called "Super Astro Fighter" and it quickly became the major competition for me and my brother and all the kids who lived nearby. We would try to beat one another's scores. We would proudly place our initials at the end of each game, hoping to 'one up' the previous person's score.
The aroma of simmering sloppy joe greeted everyone who walked through the door. For Mom cooked the meat at home, and then placed it into a crock pot which she brought to the store daily. In a crude handmade sign, she cartoonishly drew a picture of a bun with meat inside, steam rising from the top. For some reason, this drew truckers and many others into the store for a quick lunch of one of her tasty sandwiches, a small bag of potato chips, and a pop.
The memory that is most vivid to me though, is the outpouring of good conversation with the folks that walked through the door. My mother loved people, was a good listener, and a great one to give advice. She had several friends that would stop daily for laughter and a good cup of coffee. Some of the warmest memories are of seeing my mother's beautiful face light up when a favorite friend or special young person walked through the door. She knew when they were having a bad day. She knew the right words to say, or promises of prayers for some of their situations.
I feel for the young people of today. For this bygone era of old-fashioned values is headed by the wayside. With the fast-paced world, electronic devices in front of our faces, we are losing something very precious. We are losing the ability to be kind to one another, to listen, learn and be in the moment. My mother had the right idea. She made everyone feel as if they were the only person that mattered in the time she had with them.
I miss the dairy. I miss the people we all grew so close with at that time. My brother and I were fortunate to make lasting friendships with some of them. And yet there are others that we know we will never see again. Perhaps they've moved on with their lives. Perhaps they, too, knew there was once a place where everyone truly did know your name.
On a corner of Duss Avenue and Eighth street in the small steel town of Ambridge, there once was a place of magic. A place that many could come and share their cares, dreams, hopes and troubles. And there once was a woman and man who made the magic happen. Eighth Street Dairy, I will always remember our time. Thank you for being more than just a building, an establishment. Thank you for being a home, a safe haven for many.
One of the only photos we have of the inside of the dairy during our time there. Our dear old friend, Albert Jones.