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For those of you old enough to remember, Elvis’ death in 1977 was an emotional disaster for many people. I wasn’t one of them. Embarrassingly, I was late to Elvis, late to the Beatles and late to the Beach Boys. But I came around quickly. What a treasure trove of music for music lovers! I’m still reveling in all of it.
But I was a bit melancholy in the late 50’s when Elvis went to Germany to serve his country. It seemed like his absence was America’s loss. A young neighbor of mine at the time, named “Holly,” pretended to go around the corner at the end of our street to “visit Elvis.” She came back quickly. But time moved on and Elvis came back. We were there waiting for him.
Yet, when Elvis lost his life to substance abuse, it was hard for me to cry. I would come to realize that we want people to safeguard their lives and not fall victim to their own poor decisions. Still, we miss him and his music.
While I may not completely remember my reaction to Elvis’ death, I do recall the Woolworth’s Department Store in Pawtucket, RI in the 1950’s. A big draw was the lunch counter. I still remember the distinctly appealing scent of food cooking and popcorn. The lunch counter was on the left, beckoning us, no matter what our purpose for visiting. I would go there with my mother. We would ride the elevator to the upper floors where the “good stuff” was. Just to look, of course.
It seemed inevitable that we would sit at the lunch counter eating hot dogs with mustard. The “Lunch Counter Lady,” who we’ll call “Rita”, called out to the grill cook “two pigs in a yellow blanket.” My mother and I laughed so hard!
She never said it, but the hot dogs might have been all my mother could afford in the post-War period. Even so, those were great times for a young boy from a brick mill town. I never knew we were struggling to get by. I felt loved, cared for and yes, even rich.
Rita kept the lunch counter clean and shining. In the background, in the center of the floor, the whirring elevator “pinged” when it reached the destination levels. The floors of the departments were kept shiny clean by a young man who loved dancing. We’ll call him “Eddie.”
Eddie fancied Rita. They danced the Waltz together late at night in the aisles of the Woolworth store. They eventually married. They lost a child. They eventually separated. They eventually reunited. Making love stay is difficult when it starts at the Five and Dime. It seems more difficult today. Yet, we all keep on trying. Like Rita and Eddie.
When they danced late at night they would sing...
“Dance a little closer to me
Hey, dance a little closer now
Dance a little closer tonight
‘Cause it’s closing time
And love’s on sale, here at this Five and Dime”¹
“Ping" “Going up!”
To whatever life holds in store for us…
The Make Life Good! Team
¹ R.I.P. Nanci Griffith, Purveyor of Music, Love and “Folkabilly”, 7/6/53 - 8/13/21