Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sibling Assignment #180: The Back of Donnie's Store

Sister Carol gave us the prompt for the latest Sibling Assignment:

Neighborhood grocery stores used to be quite common in Kellogg as we were growing up.  Think about the neighborhood grocery stores that used to be in Kellogg, and write about some memories associated with these stores.  Pick only one store to write about, or several.  If you have a photograph of the store, or where it used to be, share a photo as well.
Christy remembers penny candy at Smelterville's Wayside Market, here.  Carol's post is forthcoming.


When the 1965 fiscal year started in July, the Idaho sales tax arrived.

A few weeks before the tax took effect, I walked into Don's Market on Mullan Avenue in Kellogg and the store's owner, Donnie Rinaldi, had written a sign on butcher paper with black grease pen stating, in essence, that because he didn't want to deal with the paperwork collecting this tax involved, he would be closing the store.

I was 11 years old and this news saddened me. I could walk to Don's Market, simply by heading east on Cameron, turning north on Oregon, walking two blocks, turning right on Mullan and walking a short distance to the store.  Don's Market was my one stop shop for baseball cards and whenever I had a quarter or more to spend, I rushed over to buy packs of cards, get teased by Josephine Wombolt, and indulge myself in the suspense as to what players would be in my new pack.  Would I finally get a Willie Mays card, or would I get my fourth card of Bob Bolin or my sixth copy of Don Mossi?

But, Don's Market was more to me than just baseball cards.

To explain, let me point out that the front of Don's Market was where Josephine held down the cash register and behind her was the penny candy/baseball card area and the rest of the store was stocked with bread and canned goods and a dairy case. Don's Market sold pop and beer. Shoppers could pick up other convenience items.

In the back of the store, Don butchered meat. He took orders at the meat case and filled the orders right behind the case.  Right behind the meat counter and butcher block was a back room, referred to by Dad as "the back of Donnie's store". The back room featured a walk-in cooler and some storage space for overstock.


That cooler.

That cooler was where Donnie stored meat and it was where he stored the beer that wouldn't fit out front.

Now, let me just say that, as a beer drinker, aside from the fact there were no craft beers back then, I'd enjoy it if it were 1963 again in the back of Donnie's store.

Beer used to be delivered and stored in sturdy wooden crates. Remember? If not, here's an Olympia Beer case:

These beer cases were strong enough to bear the weight of a grown adult.

In the back of Donnie's store, in a small open space where no products were stored, Dad and other men who lived in the Sunnyside part of Kellogg, walked into the back of Donnie's store, grabbed a beer crate, and sat in a half circle.

Oh! I left out a detail.  They walked into the back of Donnie's store, strolled into the walk-in cooler, popped open a beer, made some kind of note as to what they owed Josephine up front for the beer, grabbed a beer crate, and sat in a half circle to shoot the breeze and have a few laughs.

Looking back, I'm blown away by this scene. Needless to say, Donnie was not licensed to serve customer's beer in his store. But the illegality of it doesn't blow me away nearly as much as remembering how much these men in their thirties enjoyed having a place to drink beer together that was kind of like a boys' clubhouse or tree house or one of their parents' basement.

I'm not sure why I was included.  Maybe the idea was that Dad would come home sooner and not miss dinner if I were with him. Or did Dad want to help introduce to me to the camaraderie he and his friends experienced in the back of Donnie's store, telling stories, talking about work at the Bunker Hill, giving each other crap, and talking about how the world was going to hell?

Some days, at Don's Market, I wasn't included in the back of the store. Some days, I waited for Dad out in front of the store in our Chevy Impala. So that I'd have something to do, Dad bought me several packs of baseball cards, so I sat in the car, reading my new cards.

I remember one day, I started to get bored out in the car, so I went back into the store.  No one was at the front counter. Maybe Josephine was on a break.  I decided that day to give shoplifting a try and I grabbed a few bits of penny candy and dashed out the store, back to the car, and tried to hide myself out of view of the car windows and ate the candy.

Sunday School teachings at the United Church had worked. I felt so guilty for having swiped that candy that it tasted like ashes and my career pinching penny candy ended that day.

As important as anything I learned at Sunday School, though, was what I learned when I got to grab a crate and sit with the men.

I learned about how lasting friendships get built. I had a period of time in my adult life when I didn't understand what I'd experienced in the back of Donnie's store. I had this idea in head that friendships were formed by talking about books and poems and music and movies and teaching, by making a conscious effort with friends to try to understand the meaning of life.

Then, twenty years ago, Dad was down to the last month of his life.

One after another his drinking buddies came to visit him at our family home.  Dad's friends and Dad gave each other the same old crap they always did, but now the kidding around and the bullshit was more a source of comfort and reassurance than entertainment. The loyalty and deep trust that had built over the years, including in the back of Donnie's store, made it possible for Dad to die on June 1 secure in the love of his good friends and those many friends filled the church on the day of his funeral.

I try to carry forward what I learned in the back of Donnie's store. My Silver Valley friends and I don't have the back room of a neighborhood market, nor do we have wooden beer crates to sit on, to drink beer and pick on each other and talk about work and retirement and how the world is going to hell.

But we have our spots to get together and we have the will to keep getting together so we can not only enjoy our friendships, but are secure in the promise that we will be of comfort to one another when, like Dad, our time is up.

1 comment:

Nini said...

Touching story, well told.