January 17, 2007
Today I discovered that a place of emotional treasure from my childhood has closed, and it has left me wandering a bit emotionally.
Watts Bros. Pharmacy in Gainesville, Texas, was there my whole life. When I was growing up, it was a true small town pharmacy. There was the pharmacy in the back, and as you made your way there, you passed knick knack shelves, which were made of glass. My favorite shelving group held the perfumes. I can still see the pretty bottles there.
On your right was a true soda fountain. The seats were round with a red cover, and they turned. That was heaven for a child. The counter held various goodies: pies, cake, and stick candy. You could order a straight soda or an ice cream float. You could even get ice cream with sprinkles! I’m telling you, it was a child’s heaven, and it might have been pretty close to heaven for adults, too.
When my dad had his heart attacks in the late 80s, my parents started using Watts Bros. exclusively for Dad’s prescriptions. There is something precious about knowing folk and being known. A few years after Dad’s heart attacks, Dad developed a respiratory infection and was taken to the ER where he was given several prescriptions. Mom took them to Watts Bros. to have them filled and dropped them off on her way to work. She was going to pick them up on the way home. While she was at work, the pharmacist called her. “Gayle, you need to call the doctor. I can’t give Jerry this prescription because it’ll react to another medicine he is on, and it can kill him. If you can’t get the doctor at his office, call me back. I’ll call him at home, and I’ll wait here until we get this straightened out and you can pick up the medicine.” People like that are the gems of life.
Since then, that precious pharmacist developed cancer and went home to be with the Lord. His wife closed the pharmacy but rented it to Timothy and Kathie Parks, who turned it into a bookstore full of character. They sold books that share the history of the area, and they had wonderful bits of memorabilia spread around. And, if you asked them, they’d gladly take time to tell you anything you wanted to know, and you could learn wonderful things and enjoy warm friendship at the very same soda fountain that had been there my whole life.
Last fall we had the joy of spending a few days with Kathie and Timothy in their wonderful shop. We perused books, listened to CDs of a local choir, and sipped Purple Cows and real fountain sodas. I learned things about Gainesville history that I had never heard, and we enjoyed the excitement the Parks have for Gainesville, history, and people.
This spring we were going to visit the auction barn on the edge of town and then head downtime to enjoy the soda fountain, but as of today, it seems our plans have changed, and frankly, it makes me sad.
Granted, part of the purpose for the trip was to expose the children to history, so they could see how it was, but I’m not going to lie. Part of the purpose for the trip was to relive history, parts of my childhood that make me smile and share them with my children and see them smile.
I’m not naïve. I realize Watts Bros. wasn’t what I recall, or maybe it was. I remember a place filled with people I knew that always greeted us with a smile. I remember a place where sodas were extra sweet and so was friendship. I remember no matter what the weather, it was the perfect place “to get in out of the” elements. I remember feeling welcome, even as a child who needed someone to help her sniff the pretty bottles of perfume (and the lady at the register always opened a few for me to sniff). I remember people who always asked how we were and really caring about the answer. Maybe Starrbooks wasn’t so different.
Still, I know time moves on. I know things change and what used to be isn’t what is necessary, so it goes to the way side. I also know people have gotten too busy to take time to value people. I know people have become so determined to be themselves that they make the mistake of leaving history unacknowledged and unexplored. They call this independence. Interesting how much it resembles ignorance. Also interesting how these independent, self-proclaimed trailblazers often become known for their foibles rather than their innovations. But this isn’t about them. I’m not sure it is even about the changing of time.
I think we would be delusional to think what gives us the sense of belonging and joy today will do so tomorrow. I’ve spent enough time on this earth to realize that what meets my needs today will not remain the same in the future. My interests change. My circumstances change. My needs change, and yet, they don’t.
No matter where I am, no matter how old I am, I still love knowing folks and being known. I love going to my favorite coffee shop and the manager calling my children and me by name and asking if we “want the usual” and his knowing what the usual is. I love walking into a favorite shopping spot and the clerk telling us he has our favorite kind of suckers, and he does, AND he doesn’t even have to ask what they are. He just reaches into his bag and picks out the ones we enjoy. I love that our dentist’s receptionist has my daughter call to tell her how the recital went, and I love that all those folks openly tell us about their lives and families in return. There is something priceless in knowing and in being known.
That is what was served up more than anything at the soda fountain in the Watts Bros. Pharmacy store and in Starrbooks. It wasn’t the pretty perfume bottles or the wonderful books. It was the connection to the people, knowing them and being known by them. It was good medicine then, and it is good medicine now, and when you find a place like that, it always makes you feel good.