the center of town

“The Deerfield Commons, it used to be over there, that entire block, with Waukegan and Deerfield roads fencing it in,” I muttered with a heavy sigh looking west as I drove north on Waukegan Road. I say it when I drive into Deerfield, the town where I grew up as I relive the memories of years passed. “This was the center of town,” I said, willing the hub back where it belonged.The center of town and I belonged with each other.

On the corner across from Deerfield State bank I see the old Ford Pharmacy with its skinny, short aisles tight with rows of shelves where I passed as a grade-schooler dressed in a plaid uniform and white blouse. The stop with Dad was custom at the shiny white counter on Saturday mornings to talk to a man who blended in with the counter standing behind it wearing a white short-sleeved shirt with buttons down the collar which continued down his shoulder resembling a priest’s vestment, like something Father Clark wore when he wasn’t saying Mass at Holy Cross church.

The Jewel grocery store was there in the Deerfield Commons with the parcel pickup man whose name I can’t remember. He was a young man who spoke with lively conversation and always a smile, never hidden by his thick chocolate-brown mustache. His dark hair was short and parted on the side, and he wore a white button-down shirt, dark tie and pants. He looked hurried while bagging groceries at the end of the check-out lane, with his tie a little loose and his shirt-tail not quite tucked in. He was polite and always eager to serve his customers, most of whom he called by name. I remember his name now. His name was Mark.

Kresges or “the dime store” as we called it, was raided for school supplies every September by the local grade-schoolers. I held my list, ready to check off my requirements as I plucked them from their bins. I could also get a milkshake there or a Black Cow (root-beer float) in the diner section, and afterward visit the parakeets in the cages aligned along the wall. I just needed to follow the bird seed remnants on the scuffed and yellowed linoleum at my feet and listen to their tweety calls to find them.

Also in the Commons, I found pierced earrings at The Gift Lantern for my newly pierced ears, solid gold balls (really they were more like dots). The Gift Lantern, with its carpeted blue floor and glass-topped wood cabinets, had many fancy sparkly things that caught my mother’s attention. Mom also shopped in Janie’s, where she got my Carter’s underclothes. Mom and I visited the clothing store a couple doors down, Junior Miss where we looked for a new outfit I could wear for my seventh grade school dance and school picture. “What do you think?” Mom asked as we stood staring at my new and improved image in the three-way mirror of the dressing room. “I think you’re wearing your big sister’s clothes,” the sales lady admitted. I didn’t think so. I felt grown up and ready to impress.

I remember the Deerfield Commons as a summertime destination where Martha, my pretend sister-friend, and I arrived riding our green Schwinn bikes with matching baskets hooked on the handlebars. It was a small neighborhood place where everyone shopped, greeting their neighbors as they got in and out of their Country Squire station wagons.

Things have changed. The Commons is gone now, replaced by high-end stores, a fancy restaurant and retail chains.The Music Center and Deerfield Bakery in town have been expanded and remodeled. The Schwinn bike store doesn’t seem the same, now that it faces a busy street with wider traffic lanes and more cars.

I still mourn for the town landscape of my childhood. And I feel regret for a new generation that never knew you could get a parakeet and a milkshake in one spot at the dime store, or a pair of pierced earrings and a gift for your mom at the Gift Lantern, or have a young man named Mark address you by name as he asked if you’d like your groceries loaded into your car.

What used to be reminded me of simpler times when the ease of shopping and the simplicity of goods were as ordinary as going to the pharmacy with Dad on Saturdays or an easy bike ride up Deerfield road to The Commons. The Deerfield Commons may have lost its original identity when it was bulldozed, but my experiences of yesterday still bring smiles to my heart and belonging to my soul as I remember what used to be.

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