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Friday, October 16, 2015

A Piece of Childhood: Goodbye, A & P

The A & P has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Some of my happiest childhood memories are associated with that grocery store.  The first thing I read by John Updike was “A & P” (how many other grocery stores have a short story by a quintessential American author named after them?).  And I have always loved the story behind the great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company.  Thus, when I went to get my 30-year-old A & P card replaced at the Greenwood Lake store and was told:  “We can’t do that because we’re closing,” I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.  The A & P has been filing for bankruptcy and closing stores for many years but we have finally reached the end of the road.  And it makes me sad.  

My kids will never know what it’s like to pile into the station wagon and tumble out into a dinky grocery store with way too flourescent lights, where my Mom literally knew everyone in the store.  Part of that is because my kids will never know what it was like to grow up in a real “neighborhood” in the 70’s, where we didn’t get driven to our sports because we simply PLAYED outside all day long and until the most irresponsible in the group finally caved and said, “OK, it’s time to go home.”  The heart of the neighborhood was the schoolyard and the playground for us kids; and it was the A & P for the moms.  Next door to the A & P was the beauty salon where the moms got their hair teased once a week.  And a barber shop where, it turns out, one of the main employees had to go away for a while for pedophilia but -- strangely -- he came back to work after doing his time and everybody let him cut their hair again.  It was that kind of an era.  We just didn’t make that big of a deal over stuff.  Next to the barber shop was the drugstore where, when we got a little older, we spent all our free time playing PacMan; and then the bakery where I developed my intense love all baked goods.  Most especially black and white cookies and frosted brownies (what is with these chocolate squares people try to pass off as brownies??  True brownies come with a thick slab of chocolate frosting on top and are little pieces of heaven).   Everyone took pride in their work.  The cashiers competed to see who could ring people up the fastest and they cared -- deeply -- about keeping the line moving.  The grocery baggers also would take your groceries out to the car for you.
We loved going to the A & P with my mom when we were little.  I loved the red brick and the signature cupola.  We loved picking out the produce and the cookies and snacks. My mom would get stopped every 15 minutes because she was a 2nd grade teacher and she was constantly running into students, parents, former students.  She acted like she had all the time in the world to talk to them (she didn’t).  It was like walking around with a rock star, kids would literally squeal with delight when they saw her (BTW:  this doesn’t happen to people in my profession.  No one squeals with delight when they see their lawyer in the produce aisle).
Flash forward 40+ years, I pickup Christian, my oldest at crew practice at ACRA on the Monksville Reservoir in Ringwood, NJ everyday except the days I have crew.  And I get there a little early so I can go to the A & P in Greenwood Lake, 3 miles away, and get any groceries I need to fill in the gaps.  And so it was that I was in the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, that I realized this era had finally come to an end.  I even sat and talked to the store manager about it. There will be no more A & P’s.  The lucky stores will be bought out by Stop and Shop or Acme.  The unlucky ones will simply close.  I’m really going to miss the A & P and so will a lot of people.  It wasn’t just a grocery store, it was the last remnant of a way of life that is now long gone.
And so, I will leave you with the first paragraph of the John Updike short story, “A & P” (I have since gone on to do a thesis on John Updike for my American lit class at NYU and, of course, have read everything he has written).  I don’t have permission to put the whole thing in here but I would urge you to go out and read it:  
In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I'm in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don't see them until they're over by the bread. The one that caught my eye first was the one in the plaid green two-piece. She was a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs. I stood there with my hand on a box of HiHo crackers trying to remember if I rang it up or not. I ring it up again and the customer starts giving me hell. She's one of these cash-register-watchers, a witch about fifty with rouge on her cheekbones and no eyebrows, and I know it made her day to trip me up. She'd been watching cash registers forty years and probably never seen a mistake before.” -- from A & P, by John Updike.
Have a great day, everyone and, as always, remember to count your blessings!  <3 Mrs. Lo  
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