I was born in the south. I live in the south and will die in the south. This is only a small part of the memories I share.
"This narrative is in no way, my personal endorsement of (any) JC Penney (store(s)) in exchanging of my money for their goods that and are sold. The contents of this piece are really about "young love" and the sights and sounds that accompany this fierce time in a teenage boy's life. Thanks, Kenneth."
Her perfume was not loud, but so memorable that if a gorgeous woman, Raquel Welch, kissed you out of the blue—without you begging her, it stayed with you. I was walking slowly hoping to impress a pretty girl. I winked, smiled, and whistled “What a Fool Believes,” because I was selfish. I loved the Doobie Brothers. Fate looked off for a split-second, and I found myself sitting smack dab middle of a JC Penney store located in Florence, Ala. This moment was clear in my memory. It was 1972. A sad and joyful year if you were me.
Life was simple. The Vietnam Conflict was drawing to a Peace With Honor handshake (and a bow) and I had just graduated from high school. I had twenty-two bucks in my pocket. Money that I made from having to tromp behind one of my dad’s Old Days lawnmower, those now being manufactured with Automatic Drive as standard equipment. The very mower that ran like a top to help me make some spending money since I was a graduate, age 17, from Hamilton, Ala., High School in the Class of 1972.
The reason is still a blur why my parents, sister and husband became spontaneous on that particular Saturday morning and we were rolling north headed toward Florence, Ala., the next best town besides Birmingham, Ala. I didn’t mind. I just went along with the plan and hoped that I could keep my $22 bucks. Even in ‘72, there were thugs a-foot who loved to mug innocent Americans for little of nothing. What was happening with our country? My dad would always say when I would speak before thinking about the Crime Rate Being Higher, “it’s them Beatles fault! Come over here with that long hair shaking their butts and yelling, Baby, Baby, Baby.” Dad was after all, a veteran of the US Army and I gave him (sometimes) the respect that he earned and deserved.
For years, I relived those rare, indescribable moments of when I first walked into the two huge glass doors to this huge department store that to me, was more like me paying homage to God for freeing me from being a slave (to the lawnmower) in Egypt and now walking in the Land of Penney—I had once found the Secret to Real Happiness. Yes, sir. Even Anita Bryant was smiling at me.
Time inside this JC Penney store went from high to low gear in a nod. Even my feet were walking in slow motion and I loved it. Shoot! In 1972, people were at that time, getting a wee bit too busy and not choosing to visit with their neighbors on their front porches due to a life being lived way too swiftly. Did we become a country of Super-Men and Women overnight? Probably, from the way that check-out lines in our hometown grocery store had begun to fill up too quickly. I grew up rural and tough. I believed in the rural General Store. I would have laid down my life for that cherished establishment if the need arose.
I suppose that I was dreaming about the Penney store really being a grand evolution of the Rural General Store--”Luke Comstock” Prop.” How quaint. And how right. Every Rural General Store were right. And right for the community and country. Not many jerks would dare degrade the integrity of this type of the early prototype of a business establishment--”Luke”cared about his stock, his one employee, “Mr. Bentley,” a widower, cared about what he did for a living. This made their customers care about being careful about what they said behind “Luke” and “Mr Bentley’s” backs. James Cash Penney was that type of proprietor in the beginning and that same attitude of caring continued until his sad demise, Feb. 12, 1971, at the age of ninety-five in New York City.
I’m not brave enough to scale out there on that proverbial limb like a Spider Monkey with no fear in the world and have you to believe that I really thought that maybe Mr. Penney’s spirit had been walking beside me as I went through this store. Everything looked so clean. So neat. I know that in 2017, the running joke is “you could eat your lunch on that guy’s floor for it being so clean.” I was then and am now, serious. This Florence-based JC Penney inside the first big shopping mall on Cox Creek Parkway northeast was the biggest store in that entire mall. I know that Mr. Penney’s surviving family members and store handlers made it that way. Mr. Penney was no slouch when it came to working. And no slouch in providing the very best in his stores.
You knew it was coming. I won’t argue. You are right. I held off of the sadness surrounding the obvious decline of business for the JC Penney chain-stores. Over140 stores to date have been closed or in the process of being shut down. All because of a sharp fall in business due to the strong wave of online shopping that directly affected the Penney stores and made it possible for shoppers at home could just log onto the internet, check a purchase, type in a few important numbers and bim, bam, boom! History being made by the keystroke.
“In-store Traffic,” is now what the Penney stores management firms are labeling people like I was, on foot and loving it. You do remember me saying that I accidentally stepped into a huge department store? Well, that is mostly true. The store where I first walked into a JC Penney store was huge. The biggest store that I had ever seen. I still think this way.
Even the scent inside of this amazing department store was relaxing to say nothing about smelling great. It was as if I had really met with a painless death and woke up in Heaven. The store employees all wore “real” true-to-God smiles that they had to paste on and steam off when they went home. These employees, I felt in 1972, were beyond special, if I am any judge of the adjective.
Needless to say, reading about so many of the Penney stores closing is lower than sad. Must be that someone’s hands are tied and steps cannot be made to impede this rolling disaster. In olden times when a neighbor’s barn burned or was blown away due to a twister, the entire community dropped what they were doing, no matter what, and worked until that neighbor had a new barn. Are you seeing the same message that I hid in this paragraph? Please tell me that you can read Subliminal Messaging! Please?!
I loved that JC Penney store. And when I grew into adulthood, I loved several JC Penney stores.
My only question now is: Where are those neighbors who drop what they are doing to just raise a neighbor’s barn?
© 2018 Kenneth Avery