By Mike Johnson
Grandpa took a Sunday drive.
I wasn’t physically wearing overalls, but I was mentally.
I headed east, deep into farm country.
These are my people.
My destination was a mom & pop grocery store in a town of 3,000.
My route cut through Cody and three other small towns.
My mission was peaceful, wholesome, nostalgic feelings.
The Red Apple Thriftway is a 1960s mirage that pulls me 75 miles from home.
We’re old friends.
It’s an easy drive in a climate-controlled, magic carpet linked to my 1970’s playlist. Especially on no-traffic roads with 70mph speed limits.
The building matches the image the name creates. The expansive parking lot is much bigger than current needs – a hint of glory years buried by the passage of decades.
Their shallower friends have departed to flashier attractions and bigger towns.
I always stop at the bulletin board inside the mudroom front door. Teen babysitters appeal for customers by handwritten note. Puppies are offered with tear-off phone-number strips. Homes, tractors and pickup trucks for sale by owner.
Then I step inside. Take a deep breath of history. If I was blind, I'd know where I was.
First stop, the condiment aisle. This is the only grocer within a hundred miles that sells Plochman mustard in the round squeeze barrels. Paydirt! It has a 2025 code date too.
Then the bakery department. Jackpot! There they are, fresh-made (on-site!) lemon Danish. These relics are difficult to find.
Now the cereal aisle. Negative on the Alpha-Bits. These are an endangered species. Made by Post, they’ve been dumped by most stores for Honeycomb – also made by Post.
List completed, now I just leisurely walk the aisles to take it all in. See what surprises me.
Ovaltine leaps off the shelf. Rich Chocolate and Chocolate Malt flavors. This brand has been around since 1904. I remember Ralphie's decoder ring experience in "Christmas Story."
I see Pearl Milling Company. I scoff and shake my head at the woke name change away from Aunt Jemima.
I inwardly laugh at a meme showing someone pouring a Pearl Milling Company bottle of pancake syrup into their old Aunt Jemima bottle.
The caption reads, “Become ungovernable.”
Many actresses played “Aunt Jemima” over the years and relatives expressed disappointment their ancestors were being erased.
Uncle Ben’s and Cream of Wheat also dropped photos of black characters on their packaging.
I notice Mrs. Butterworth still uses a woman-shaped syrup bottle.
The Internet argues whether it was based on a white or black female.
I think they’re missing the point.
Most men agree pancakes just taste better while you’re holding a woman.
Great. Now they'll call grandpa racist AND sexist.
Because it’s located in a small town, the Red Apple is also a variety store and liquor store. There is a big section for crafts and games.
They especially like sewing supplies and puzzles. I wonder how often the inventory turns. Like the locals, I'm just comforted knowing it's always there.
All good times must end. The cashier was waiting patiently at attention – obviously well-trained -- not behind her register, but at the front of the counter where customers unload their purchases. As soon as I stepped toward her lane, she cheerfully greeted me and pounced back behind her register.
I asked if they still took paper money and she smiled, “Cash is king!” An experienced old-schooler, she briskly counted change into my hand without having to use the "amount tendered" key.
The nostalgia was completed in the parking lot.
An old Chevy parked with a family of five. Dad, mom, two girls and a boy exited. All dressed in their Sunday best.
Dad was whistling. Mom was smiling, subtlety herding the clucking chicks toward the store.
I knew exactly what they were feeling.
It was that same after-church, all-is-well euphoria I’d experienced as a boy.
The feelings of peaceful, wholesome, nostalgia ran deep and rich.
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