My mother needed just one thing that day: banana baby food. And she had chosen me for the mission.
I was eight or nine, and I had been dreaming about this moment. Finally, the chance to be a big girl had presented itself. For the first time, my mom was allowing me to go into a grocery store by myself.
I nodded seriously as she reminded me of the aisle to which I would be venturing. She handed me the cash, and I put it in my back pocket, already feeling more mature. She pulled up to the entrance and off I went ~ Shelby: A true, grown-up kid. I don’t recall the details of my trip along those fluorescent-lit aisles, but I know for sure that I walked out of that store victorious. I returned to the car, gave my mom her change, and spent the rest of the day feeling much too big for my britches. My mom has no recollection of that moment. She was just happy she didn’t have to unbuckle the baby from her car seat or turn off the AC. But for me …
I’ve been back inside that same grocery store many times since.
Birthday dinners in my family were filet mignon and steamed shrimp piled on a red ceramic plate that affirmed, in white letters, “You are special today.” For some reason, we always bought our steamed shrimp from that grocery store down the street. On those seafood missions, my sisters and I made many phone calls to our mom to ask: “What did you want again? Cajun or lemon-pepper?” The answer was always: “Oh, just get one of each.”
Most of our birthday cakes came from there, too. I would stand at the bakery counter and flip through the catalog trying to decide between Scooby Doo and The Little Mermaid.
I learned recently that both of my parents worked part time at that grocery store when we were kids. My dad worked nights and weekends after shifts at the Air Force Base, where he was a C-130 loadmaster. My mom worked on the weekends when dad could be home with us girls. I have no memory of this, but I was happy when a bag-boy apron appeared in my dress-up wardrobe.
We’ve moved since then, and that grocery store down the street is now a 20-minute drive from home.
Every six months or so, I drive to our old neighborhood to look at the house with that terrible, wonderful gumball tree in the front yard and the sidewalk with my hands imprinted in the cement. If the house looks empty, I leave my car on the street and sneak to the back yard to see the spot on the fence where blackberries grew. One time I even peeked into the window where my mom would spray us through the screen with water from the kitchen sink. Through the blinds on the bay window where we stuffed our mouths with steak and steamed shrimp and Knight’s birthday cakes.
Occasionally, when I’m on that side of town, I’ll stop by the grocery store, to grab shampoo or a newspaper or a soda.
But we don’t really do the shrimp thing anymore. And we buy our cakes from Harps now. When we moved across town we left some traditions behind with that little house.
Maybe we’re part of the reason the owners are shutting it down at the end of December.
After 40 years of business, Knight’s Super Foods can’t compete anymore. There are two Walmarts, one Kroger, one Walgreens, one Kmart, and one Harps in Cabot now.
I texted my parents as soon as I read on THV’s website that Knight’s was closing, and in less than 30 seconds after I hit send, my phone was ringing. “Is it really?” my dad asked me. We talked for 14 minutes, and we stopped talking only because I had work to do.
I stopped by the store that very day on my way home from work. For one last smell of the bakery, one more look at the raw frog legs that had fascinated me as a little girl. But there wasn’t much left.
I met Mike Fortson, a full-time Cabot firefighter who has worked at Knight’s since he graduated from high school in 1986. It was his first job.
We talked for a few minutes, noting that the grocery store had become a sort of institution in our town, which used to be small.
This was the place where my dad bought the dip that made him smell like wintergreen. The place he would take me when I was too young to know he shouldn’t be going there.
The place where we stopped on the way to school to grab sodas to go with our lunches. Mom would pull up right in front of the vending machines, hand us the quarters, and let us push the button for Sprite. My sister Mallory mostly remembers the deli sandwiches and bakery cookies Dad bought her for after school.
The place where my parents earned extra cash to support their daughters, money used to pay for basketball sneakers and ballet slippers.
I ran into a woman while I was browsing. She was confused by the clearance sale and approached me for help.
“Isn’t it so sad that Knight’s is closing?” I said in the hope of prompting her to tell me a poignant memory of Knight’s.
“I know,” she said. “This is the only place I can find navy beans.”