In the fifties and sixties, American culture was shaped when lunch counters became one of the focal points for establishing racial integration. Lunch counters were the precursors to modern fast food, and it wasn’t just Woolworth’s and S.S. Kresge’s stores that had them, but nearly every store with a little sliver of space provided a counter where their beloved customers could eat a greasy, starchy, unbalanced meal and wash it down with soda pop. It was because of their ubiquity and their popularity that they were targeted for integration. But in my pre-school days, I wasn’t too worried about whether or not Negroes were at the counter; I have my own tragic reason for remembering the lunch counter.
We lived in a pretty darned white part of Cleveland. In fact, the only racial profiling we did was to make fun of the Polish. The Grant’s five-and-dime was in the shopping strip and, like today’s dollar stores, offered cheap versions of real products at knock-off prices. My mother stopped there a couple of times a week after food shopping and that’s where we would have lunch.
Grant’s lunch counter had a main straight run and a bend at the end, with low stools for seating. There were a couple of tables along the windows, but I preferred the counter because it had a quirk in its design that provided a small, recessed shelf below the main counter. I think it was on purpose for people to store umbrellas (or something) but I would use it to store my silverware until the food was served. Oh, and if I picked my nose I’d hide the booger there.
One day, that all became just a minor background detail when a tragic incident seared itself into my memory. I received a special present for my birthday during the summer before entering kindergarten. The routine of shopping and lazy lunches was all going away but at that time it was a fun excursion that allowed me to whine and beg for a toy from Grant’s, but on this one particular day I brought my special present along, a Howdy-Doody wrist watch.
I could barely tell time, and just barely knew who the hell was Howdy Doody, but I loved to play with that watch. And on that fateful day, I took the watch off of my wrist and placed it on the shelf below the lunch counter at Grant’s. I could have been at the same lunch counter in Selma, Alabama on the day when Rosa Parks gave her famous speech, but all I would have remembered would have been my watch.
My mother was frustrated and angry at me for losing it, which I finally confessed when I looked the next day and confirmed it was gone. She was disappointed because it had been in her family, and she only gave it to me because I begged for it like a spoiled little cry-baby.
If you found it, or know of its whereabouts, please return it. No questions asked.