Woolworth’s by Mark Irwin
Everything stands wonderously multicolored
and at attention in the always Christmas air.
What scent lingers unrecognizably
between that of popcorn, grilled cheese sandwiches,
malted milkballs, and parakeets? Maybe you came here
in winter to buy your daughter a hamster
and were detained by the bin
of Multicolored Thongs, four pair
for a dollar. Maybe you came here to buy
some envelopes, the ight blue par avion ones
with airplanes, but caught yourself, lost,
daydreaming, saying it’s too late over the glassy
diorama of cakes and pies. Maybe you came here
to buy a lampshade, the fake crumpled
kind, and suddenly you remember
your grandmother, dead
twenty years, floating through the old
house like a curtain. Maybe you’re retired,
on Social Security, and came here for the Roast
Turkey Dinner or the Liver and Onions
or just to stare into a black circle
of coffee and to get warm. Or maybe
the big church down the street is closed
now during the day, and you’re homeless and poor,
or you’re rich, or it doesn’t matter what you are
with a little loose change jangling in your pocket,
begging to be spent, because you wandered in
and somewhere between the bin of animal crackers
and the little zoo in the back of the store
you lost something, and because you came here
not to forget, but to remember to live.
This, of course, is not a Woolworth’s and is actually an empty store with a lovely storefront. The empty shop is in Shipshewana, a quaint little tourist trap in upper Indiana, right about where it is as flat as flat can be. There is a large flea market in the summer, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and people come from hundreds of miles away for it; it can take the full two days to get through it. It has been years since I have wandered the aisles on a hot summer day. The area is surrounded by Amish farms, a lot of horses and a lot of black buggies – the paved roads have deep ruts from the hard wheels. And every other tourist who has a camera invariably sticks the darn thing right into an Amish person’s space and starts to snap away, not really caring about religious beliefs or even common courtesy. The streets are crowded during the week, with horses drawn carriages, buggies, bicycles, people walking with arms full of purchases and cars dodging the lot of them. It is rare to find an empty shop in Shipshe.
I only go to Shipshewana after it is dark outside and the streets have been rolled up for the night, or on quiet Sunday afternoons after getting home from church. The shops are all closed with the exception of the gas station on the corner, the Amish are all either in bed or at church, depending upon whether it is Sunday or night, and the only people you see are a local “Englisher” or two out for a stroll or jog.
I wish Jo-Jo’s Pretzels were open at night….