Sometimes along some stretch of road or highway, but more commonly in small towns or in the rural areas, I happen on the few mom and pop stores run by moms and pops that are still in operation.
But more commonly, and with a bit sadness, I meet their dilapidated, roof-falling-in, darkened remains.
Oh, those mom and pop stores. Run by people who knew your name, knew your folks.
The sight summons up what will always be to me the archetypal mom and pop: Lyden Market, at 1007 Auburn Way North, owned and operated by George and Ethel Lyden from 1948 to 1975, northeast of today’s Fred Meyer. and at that time east of the Lone Brothers fields.
No trace of the building — before 1948 a house but remodeled and repurposed by the Lydens into a business — only a parcel of land ringed by apartments. But I remember those kind people and every detail of their store.
The old-fashioned red cooler to the left of the door, full of ice-cold Coca-Cola bottles.
The black-and-white tiled floor, which despite the nightly sweepings, was always faintly dusted with the passage of years of customers.
That little store had a smell only mom and pops can have. No idea where it comes from, but it’s as common to that genre as the odor we breathe in classrooms or in new cars. Only more pleasant than the latter, and not sprayed out of a can. But, who knows, maybe I’m wrong there. Maybe there is a special aerosol known only to proprietors of mom and pop stores of a certain vintage, which only they can possess and use under penalty of law.
That little store is a repository of many happy memories for me.
Running there with a quarter in hand to buy a Coke on a hot July day in 1969, after cheering on the Seattle Pilots and outfielder Wayne Comer — “Hit a homer, Comer!” to a win via the neighbors’ radio.
Stumbling by accident once through the door into the Lyden’s home behind the store, and Ethel gently shushing me out with a kind but firm admonishment.
Their son, Chuck, always with a smile, packing grocery bags. They had another son, George, but I never met him.
My father’s nightly call to my mother from the market, asking her what she needed from the store: loaf of bread, quart of milk, soup, ice cream?
One night I answered that phone call. On that occasion, as on most, I was keenly interested in the last of those items.
“Got it,” he said.
Rising excitement: “What flavor? Chocolate?”
“Potato and kidney swirl.”
“Potato and kidney swirl?? That sounds awful!!”
I was horrified and didn’t find out he was kidding until he pulled up in the driveway. He got a chuckle out of my naivety, one of many such chuckles he enjoyed at my expense over the years.
Most of all, I remember George and Ethel Lyden. Kinder souls I have never met, and do not expect to. Sometime after the store closed, the couple came to our house to visit my parents. I don’t remember what was said. But I remember George, behind his thick-lensed glasses and Ethel next to him, looking every bit like everyone’s uncle George and aunt Ethel, saying farewell to my parents before they moved to Olympia.
Though I was a little kid at the time and never got in much conversation with them, their departure seemed even then the closure of an era. I know it did to my parents.
Gerard Manley Hopkins sums up my memories of the Lydens and their little store tidily in his short poem, “In the Valley of the Elwy.”
“I remember a house where all were good
To me, God knows, deserving no such thing:
Comforting smell breathed at very entering.
…That cordial air made those kind people a hood
All over, as a bevy of eggs the mothering wing
Why, it seemed of course; seemed of right it should.”
Robert Whale can be reached at email@example.com.