Downtown, Capital D

FRANKLIN MASON

December 21, 1991|By FRANKLIN MASON

He went Downtown the other way.

He said it with the capital D because that was what it was to him, or once was. He went to the very heart, the center of Downtown, to Howard and Lexington Streets.

He hadn't realized it until he was there, standing on the corner. He hadn't realized what it meant to him. It had to do with childhood, with youth.

He remembered the day after Thanksgiving a half-century and more ago. It was the Downtown day for children, the day of no school, of Santa in stores, and the toys shining.

Then it was December. Each successive day to Christmas, the Downtown corner swelled. Shoppers were shoulder to shoulder, show window to curb. His mother was beside him. Would Christmas really come?

Then he was out of high school and in a Downtown job. He worked at Howard and Lexington, at Hochschild, Kohn. Deep in back of the store's first floor he handled books, shifted them, stacked them, sold them. He was paid $13 a week, a six-day week. It meant the world to him.

But that was another day. He knew now that many people had fled to malls, had not been Downtown for years. But he was Downtown now. It had all greatly changed. He looked for what he'd once known like the back of his hand.

The stores he'd known were gone, Hochschild and Hutzler, Stewart and May. Something of their exteriors remained but he scarcely recognized them.

He went now into a store called Morton's. It stood where Hochschild's had been. He entered and saw a sea of clothing NTC that washed far back into the store. He knew his books had long been washed away.

Outside again he looked for other marks, other places. McCrory and Woolworth still stood, the famed Five and Tens, but he feared they had forgotten what a dime once bought. On one corner was a Rite Aid, the very corner where Read's once stood. He remembered how often he had run right there.

Nearby he saw a Thom McAn. He didn't remember them there but he remembered them on Baltimore Street. Where every pair of shoes in the window, in the store, went for $3.30. Almost all else about the intersection seemed too new, too without memory.

But there was something nearby that perked him. It was Lexington Market. He had a mission, needed a gift, and went there. It wasn't the market of old but some of the old life remained. He went to Rheb's, the candy people, for the gift. He bought a two-pound box, paid more for it than his weekly salary had been at Hochschild's. That's what time did.

Leaving Rheb's he thought of Berger's, their cookies with the thick, thick chocolate on top. He remembered them from deep in his childhood at his grandmother's house. He wanted some now. He went and made his purchase and asked how long they'd made such cookies. Two hundred years, they said. It was a nice round figure. He remembered them 70 years ago.

Then he went back and stood at Howard and Lexington again. He thought of those he'd known who had passed there and gone. So much had changed. It was not the same, could not be the same, still it was his Downtown. He had gone back years to find it.

Franklin Mason is a retired Evening Sun copyreader.

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