Friday, January 08, 2010

Nutty Memory

For some reason I have been thinking about roasted nuts this morning. Specifically, the old time roasted nut counter at the five and dime store. For most of my teen years I had a paper route and every afternoon and Sunday mornings I would ride my bicycle downtown to the Roanoke Herald offices and pick up my load of about 130 papers. It was a small paper and all the daily papers would fit in my big front basket and the two 'saddlebag' baskets on my big old JC Higgins bike. Sundays would require two trips usually, as the paper normally doubled in size. Here is where the nuts come in. Just a few doors down from the newspaper office was McCrory's five and dime and when I had an extra quarter or two I would stop in and go to the nut counter. I loved the nut counter. Big glass bins, a little greasy and salty, filled with freshly roasted nuts. I can still remember the smell of those nuts. When I think back on it they might have actually deep fried the nuts but regardless, the smell of the just cooked cashews, peanuts, pecans and the rest was heavenly. I would hand over my quarter or half dollar and the lady behind the counter would let me select which nuts would go onto the scale until they added up to the purchased weight. Always some cashews(still my favorite nut) and some pecans and then maybe a filbert or two and some peanuts. She would then pour them into a little bag and I would stuff the still warm nuts into my pocket and head down to pick up my papers.

There were usually six or seven of us paper boys there at the same time to pick up our work and we would all head across the street to the covered parking area of the Ford car dealer to roll and rubber band our papers before setting out to deliver. A tightly rolled and banded paper was necessary for the pinpoint accuracy required to deliver the paper against the front door with a satisfying bang when sailing past the house on your bike and I might add that it was the mark of a well seasoned paper boy to never miss. Besides having to face the customer on Saturday when you made your weekly collections (45 cents for a whole week of papers) and hear complaints about lost papers, pride made you stop your bike and the rhythm of the delivery to retrieve badly thrown papers and that was a bad thing.

Anyhow back to the nuts, depending on how much money I had to spend and the resulting quantity of nuts determined how I would ration the nuts so that they would last through the whole delivery which took about 2 hours. It was always sad to realize that you had eaten all the nuts before you had tossed the last paper and still had to face the long ride home without. I can still remember the effort to grab a nut out of the bag in your pocket when sailing down the street on a heavily loaded bike and popping it in your mouth before you had to grab a paper for the next house and how you relished those spots on your route where you could skip a few doors before having to throw. Just enough time for a nut.

I don't know of anyplace, anymore, where you can get nuts that way and it makes me a little sad to think about it. I don't even think there are five and dimes anymore and that is a bit sad too. There was never anything quite like the smell when you walked into a real five and dime. The smells from the lunch counter, nut shop, perfume and who knows what else all slammed together in a cacophony of life.

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