Food takes you back…

I opened a can of Kroger’s cheap peanuts this afternoon, and was amazed at how, all of a sudden, I was 7 years old again, and looking forward to a treat after going to the doctor’s office.

So here I’m taking you into the chaotic mind of a seven-year-old. It’s an exercise in writing style, I hope you enjoy the ride:

Snapping suddenly into sharp focus in my mind’s eye, I was climbing those narrow stairs up to Doctor Turner’s office. I could smell the linseed oil and polish everywhere, and the astringent sterile smells of Doctor Turner’s inner and outer offices. Doctor Turner had to be at least 6 1/2 feet tall, with long distinguished white hair topping a long face with round glasses, punctuated by a distinguished white mustache; and he was maybe 150 pounds soaking wet. But he had a wiry athleticism to him, a sober but kind look, and a deep, serious voice that was a little scary at first.

I was always totally fascinated by this desk clock that Doc had; it was an art-deco thing, and I just always wanted to pick it up and figure out how it worked… And in these times of Internet searches, look at this – I found one! Yup, it looked pretty much like this:

This one needs all the brass polished, but Doc’s was always clean and gleaming perfectly.

For whatever childhood disease, Doctor Turner would pull out this ebony fountain pen with a shining-silvery nib, and scratch his way across a rough-textured prescription pad in purply-blue Scripto ink. He always see-sawed a half-moon-shaped blotter across it, then ripped the sheet off, and with solemn authority, handed it straight to my Dad.

We’d thank him for whatever, then head out the doors of the office, the polished oak hallway door thumping smartly closed behind us. Then one more door at the top of the stairs, and down we’d go, to the landing where the door ahead of us opened onto the street, and the door to the right opened on Gene Smith Pharmacy. That door from the vestibule had a small bell on it, as did most of the shop doors in that time.

And then when you entered, the smells… The SMELLS!! Everything from the overpowering sickly perfume of Chantilly bath powder to the smells of things exotic; sandalwood, then some kind of odd, spicy thing that had to be related to the dandruff shampoos they carried; all with an undertone of brass and furniture polishes. To the side was an eight-foot-tall scale that proclaimed, “NO SPRINGS! HONEST WEIGHT!” And I always noticed that it never agreed with the numbers in the magnifier window of our home’s Borg scale with the linoleum top.

Gene Smith’s (I think Ralph was the pharmacist’s name) was expensive according to my Dad’s grumbling, but they always had in stock what Doctor Turner prescribed. You have to remember that these were the days when ‘express delivery’ meant it came on the train in three to four days. And WOW did you pay for that kind of service…!

As you worked your way to the back where the pharmacy counter was, all this gradually got displaced by the wonderful, warm, unctuous, oily, smells of roasting peanuts. This is what I smelled when I opened that can. And once you got back there, the space was dominated by the glass-front counter framed in gleaming white porcelain where they had peanuts, nuts, Brazil nuts, walnuts, every kind of nut you could name, and many you couldn’t; all displayed and presented for your purchase. And to the side in that same case were those “chicken-bones” candy which were some kind of peanut butter center surrounded by something like the hard caramel like that of Butterfinger bars.

In that display case, they had light bulbs illuminating all the nuts and warming them so that the smell wafted throughout the entire store. There was a turntable which hummed and growled behind the glass, in an attempt to entice you further to ‘spend too much’ according to my Dad. But he’d always soften up for the “chicken bones”, and we’d leave with a little white bag of them. And they’d never make it back to the house, because that was most of a half-hour away.

The blocks in Chehalis all had names; in my fuzzy memory this was the Argus block. It was triangular, due to the way the streets ran. The triangular corner of that block was owned by a lawyer, as I recall, his name was VanderStoep; and he was a good friend of my Dad’s. There was another triangular block facing that one; I think it was called Washington block for the big hotel which took up about 2/3 of it. So these two triangles were split by Market street, the Washington block on the North side, and the Argus on the South.

I still remember getting my hair cut a couple doors down from Doctor Turner’s door; there were these two former Navy guys that owned the place together. Their specialty: a shave and ‘white sidewalls’.

But even when I was older and when walking past Gene Smith’s on my way back to my car after getting a haircut, I could smell those roasting peanuts. And just for a moment, I’d pause.


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