The pharmacist’s assistant was dour and could barely trouble herself to mumble, “You’re welcome,” when I smiled and thanked her, even though I had left the prescription two days before and it was supposed to have been ready the day before, meaning I made THREE separate trips to the chain for this one prescription, and it was still not ready when I went to pick it up.
As I left the chain store – it is especially irksome the way they situate the entrances of those chains so that the door is on a corner, probably to give the it the appearance and feel of ye olde drug store of yore – I was struck by a memory of Buck Shot, the pharmacist at Stubb’s, the drug store in the small town where I grew up. Slight and smiling, he stood in the elevated area of the pharmacy. Someone at Stubb’s would call when the prescription was ready. Our parents had us run in the store to pick it up. When you walked in the door, everyone knew your name and the little white paper bag with the caduceus printed on it, prescription receipt stapled to it, was ready and waiting.
The fluorescent lights worked but the store always seemed dimly lit. Walking in the old drug store felt something like stepping into a friendly, familiar cave, one that’s a bit worn around the edges.
The black and white linoleum floor was scuffed and worn. The pharmacy counter was on the opposite wall from the door. A bar lined the left hand wall, and behind the bar was a milkshake machine, the slushee machine, and a black phone. A double burner for two pots of coffee sat on the counter with thick beige ceramic cups lined up on white dishtowels beside it.
Stubb’s was big enough, but just barely, for the three or four tables with woodgrain laminate tops where the town’s old men gathered every morning and every afternoon for coffee and gossip, and neighbors caught up with each other while waiting to get a prescription filled.
While the big girls or baby group finished their dance lessons at Miss Minnie Simpson’s School of Dance, my friends and I ran to Stubb’s to get a slush, our ballet slippers slapping the sidewalk or our tap shoes flashing. I imagine our squeals and giggles floated down the block, clear to Turner Drug Store on the next corner.
The drug store smelled almost sweet, like the lime, strawberry, grape, cherry syrups used to make slushees. We charged our snack to our parents and ran back to Miss Minnie’s. We were in elementary school, aware of little but our friends, our parents, our classrooms. We were not old enough to consider a time when Stubb’s may not be open at its corner, welcoming and familiar.
Late one winter afternoon a few years before Stubb’s closed for good, I was in town. It was nearly dark and the lights were shining from Stubb’s windows. I had been half afraid the old place may have been closed. I stepped in and found that walking through the glass door, its cowbell ringing, felt like it did when I was a child.
For several years I kept meaning to make a trip to my old hometown and take photographs of the drug store. I was afraid it would close before I got pictures of it, which is just what happened. It’s yet another of those bittersweet to painful inevitable signs of the times. I can tell my son about the stores when I was growing up but he won’t be able to relate to it any more than I can my mother’s stories about being handed a quarter and spending a Saturday afternoon at a matinee with snacks, all purchased for that twenty-five cents.
No matter how much the chains quaint up the corporate-mandated décor of the drug stores it’s not the same as a personable, inefficient small town store. The town where I live actually has a few family-owned drug stores and I try to shop there whenever I can. One of them has a bell over its door and each time I walk in, I think about Stubb's Drug Store on the corner in a once bustling downtown.