Now don’t get me wrong. Hope is nice place. Back then, as well as now, it was filled with wonderful people. It just wasn’t where my Redhead, Brenda, was. That made all the difference. The days went by okay, but the nights proved tortuous. I read, and imagined all sorts of things. I hadn’t even been able to find her, or anyone, to let them know where I was. I even wondered if it would be appropriate.
That would amount to presupposing that she gave a damn. My fantasies soared around my head like flying monsters from a Sci-Fi movie.
Maybe she had sashayed by some new fellow, much more prosperous and handsome than I.
Maybe her basketball coach had swept her away, carrying her in one arm and dribbling away with the other.
Maybe Sean Connery had driven through the city going somewhere and had spotted her.
Maybe she found out that I really didn’t like Daphne du Maurier books all that much.
Maybe she found out that I had once gotten busted once for slipping over into Tien Sha Village without permission, in the company of a guy named Beaton and up to no good.
Maybe she had forgotten my name.
I concentrated on my work, which I must say was interesting. I was interviewing representatives of maybe the last generation of downtown merchants in America. Absent socio-economic developments in their communities, over which they had no control, they would almost all disappear before long. We would lose a part of America’s soul along with them.
They worked under antiquated business principles. They understood that there was only so much money circulating around town for retail purchases. Their job was to maintain their share, and not become wealthier by driving their fellow merchants out of business.
They knew their customers’ names, history, and habits. If one sold a necktie to a man who couldn’t tie it, no problem. The salesperson would stand the customer at attention, tie a perfect knot, loosen the tie, slip it over the man’s head and it was ready for service next Sunday morning.
No amount of encouraging could prevent them from parking their car directly in front of the door to their business. The customers didn’t mind. They assumed that the owners deserved the spot. Besides, it let the customers know that the owner was in.
|Downtown Hope, Arkansas, |
before modern times got hold of it.
They weren’t above delivering their goods to those with limited means of transportation, and that comprised a large percentage of the elderly.
The first thing they did of a morning was to sweep the sidewalk in front of their stores.
They served their community, supported their church, and never failed to purchase an ad in the high school yearbook.
In short, they were participants in the city, not predators.
We won’t see the likes of them again. Toward the end of the week, I got to thinking one night, and decided that if I ever saw the Redhead again, I would be a better person for having gotten to know those simple merchants, in their simple stores, in a simple place called Small-Town America. How could we have known that it was living its last years?