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It was just after seven-thirty on a Sunday morning, and the streets were silent. Jack and I walked past the elementary school building and Jack noticed a pile of furniture stacked by the side, where the bike racks used to be.
"Look at those chairs," Jack said. "The little ones."
We veered off the sidewalk to approach the pile.
"Do you think they could be ours?" Jack said.
"If they are, they're at least forty years old," I said, picking up a chair and holding it in one hand.
The chair was wooden. The style was old-fashioned. The chair was so small that it could not comfortably hold a person much older than seven or eight.
"I'll bet you these are the same chairs that were used when we went to school here," Jack said. "They're pretty sturdy. They could have lasted all this time."
The elementary school was being remodeled. On this August Sunday morning, the little wooden chairs awaited Monday pickup by a salvage crew. Jack and I, best friends all our lives, both of us half-a-century old now, were walking the streets of the town where we grew up. Neither of us lives there now. We had flown in with nothing much more important in mind than to do just this: walk around and see things.
To us, the pile of elementary school furniture was like a prized find at an archeological dig. Soon enough the streets would be filling with people on their way to church, but we were still pretty much alone as we left the furniture and headed toward Main Street. A police officer, cruising, waved, and we waved back. In a town of 15,000, that kind of thing can happen.
On the other side ofMain Street was Paul's Food Shoppe. "I wonder if it still has the wooden floors," Jack said. In the middle of a block we crossed without a traffic light because there was no traffic. The store was closed, but through the front windows we could see that the floor was still made of well-worn wood, the nailheads visible.
"It was always so much smaller than the Kroger's across the street," I said. "But it always did good business."
"People liked the service," Jack said. "Paul's gave personal service. You could call Paul's with your grocery list and they'd deliver to your house."
Across the street, the Kroger's supermarket was gone, a chain pharmacy in its place. Paul's remained. We saw the food on the shelves, and Jack, who knows about the twists and vagaries of business now, mentioned the name of a giant national food manufacturer that he noticed on one label through the window and said, "They're such a slimy outfit," and began to explain to me about the national conglomerate's low business practices.
But I didn't want to hear it. I'm willing to listen to just about anything Jack wants to talk about, always have been, but a silent Sunday morning in front of Paul's grocery windows was not the time to remind ourselves that we now knew secrets and shames of the real world. "Paul's really did have good service," I said, cutting him off. "My grandmother had them deliver her groceries all the time."
The record shop where Jack and I each bought copies of Meet the Beatles the day it arrived in our town is now a store that sells sheets and towels; we looked in that window, too. Connell's Flowers is bigger than we remembered; Seckel's 5 & 10 is gone. We took a right and passed the house where my mother used to live when she was a girl. We stopped on street comers and debated which way to turn next.
Each of us had been back here many times before; each of us has thought, more times than we can tell, about what the streets and buildings mean to us. We hadn't done it together, though, not like this, and the Sunday morning grew later and the streets began to fill.
In the nicer sections of town the homes were still lovely, but very few had the names of their owners displayed on address signs in front, the way they used to. Instead, the signs on the lawns bore the names of security firms, announcing to would-be burglars that the homes were wired and connected to the police station. It's like this everywhere now, all over America, in our new age of fear and discretion. Don't let strangers know your name; just tell them you are wary and well-protected. Security on those streets we walked was once something that was taken for granted, and the security was of a sort that people did not have to order from a company and pay for once a month.
"Do you think they're just going to haul those little wooden chairs away?" Jack said.
"My mom's old house was really beautiful," I said, looking in the sky for Sunday-morning rain clouds.Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queens Nights. Copyright © by Bob Greene. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
|"She Can See"||6|
|Jack Benny's Way||9|
|To Serve and Protect||11|
|A Father, a Son and an Answer||16|
|"The Body of a Mortgage Broker . . ."||19|
|The Sky's the Limit||21|
|"I Was Just Playing"||24|
|In the Chapel||29|
|A Clean, Well-Lighted Place||32|
|"Why Weren't You His Friends?"||37|
|Ties You Wouldn't Wish on a Dog||43|
|Those Ties Refuse to Play Dead||45|
|"I Tell Her That She Is Beautiful"||53|
|A Shortcut to the Finish Line||64|
|The Most Vivid Picture||77|
|What Do You Say to the Naked Guy?||86|
|The Naked Guy Speaks||88|
|A Wedding Place||91|
|The Games People Play||93|
|Words of Love||99|
|Flood of Memories||101|
|Against the Wind||104|
|A Soul Is Always There||106|
|Most Likely to Succeed||109|
|"The Way She Smiles"||111|
|The Children's Voices||114|
|Requiem for the Glass Blowers||117|
|Son of the Glass Blowers||119|
|The Lesson by Interstate 29||122|
|A Whole New Ball Game||124|
|You Can Always Pay Forward||129|
|Who Will Say, "You Have a Home"?||132|
|What Lies Beyond the Highest Rung?||137|
|The Heroes of a Certain Spring||140|
|The Night a Miracle Came to Town||145|
|Her Life Was Not a Joke||148|
|A Blessing from Devereaux||156|
|John Unitas, Jr.||162|
|It's No Time to Be a Kid||164|
|"Please . . . Don't Send Me Away"||170|
|You've Got to Trust Your Milkman||173|
|The Shoulder Season||176|
|A Stolen Life||184|
|The Night He Went Inside||187|
|The Women in Room 811||189|
|The Ride of a Lifetime||192|
|A Century Ends in T-Shirts||195|
|Who Has Won and Who Has Lost||197|
|A Nation Behind Bars||210|
|The Circus That's Always in Town||213|
|Turning Their Knobs to Bob||215|
|A Saturday Night to Remember||218|
|"It's the Best Thing I Can Do"||223|
|The Man in Front of the Movie House||228|
|Was She Really So Different?||232|
|His Greatest Move||235|
|The Final Word on "Quarter to Three"||237|
|In Good Standing||240|
|A Father's Farewell to His Dearest Friend||243|
|The Sound of Distant Cheers||246|
|One More for the Road||248|
|When Big Boys Strode the Land||251|
|Will C. W. Jones Please Re|