This heavy snow that comes late in the winter has its own look. The daylight, though grey with the storm, lasts longer than in mid-winter and in the early evening there is something about the grey and white as they fade into each other that is quite unlike any other scene or season. I remember a few of such days in my early childhood. By March all of us were tired of sleds and snowmen and weary of being held inside of rooms and we – maybe I should say “I” – vigorously sought some method or means of getting out of the house, breaking the monotony, but still staying out of the wet and cold.
For me at that time Roger Cooley’s store was a haven. It was a store, of sorts. In those days, when lots of older folks did not own cars and walked to buy groceries, there were such stores dotted throughout the neighborhoods. On every third or fourth corner there was a tiny clapboard building with a candy counter and shelves of bread and canned goods. Roger Cooley had taken things a little further. His place not only sold bread and milk; he had a soda counter, jukebox and a linoleum dance floor big enough to park a car on.
I was still in elementary school then, and so the crowd there was older than me and took a dim view of my patronage of the place and that, of course, made it all the more attractive to me. I remember a few details – the smell of chili dogs; the metal bases for the conical paper cups; the skinny straws, two to a wrapper; the signs hanging from strings on the ceiling advertising Sealtest ice cream. All these things marks of sophistication in that world, in that day.
But the most memorable thing about Roger Cooley’s store was Sandy Drake. She was five years older than me and in high school. She lived just down the street from Cooley’s and I knew that if I could get out of the house and make my way there I would see her. She wore sweaters and skirts and always a necklace and her chestnut hair was curled and flipped in the style of the day. There were times when no one else was in the store when she would talk to me. It was like she found me amusing. She would ask me questions – about other kids in my class or what I was doing in school – and she always smiled and laughed at my answers. She was the best dancer I had ever seen.
It is these late evenings in late winter that remind me of Cooley’s and Sandy Drake. All things that have their day and pass away into the grey and white.