My parents were over the other night for dinner. After we chomped on tacos with black beans, chunky salsa, and jalapeños we began reminiscing. I’m not sure how the conversation started but we cruised back in time to 1980-something. To Antioch Tennessee where I grew up. We went back to The Mall.
The crappy thing is the mall where I spent so much time from ages 6-26 is no longer there. I mean the building itself is still there but the stores, the people, the smell of corn dogs and waffle cones is just a lingering memory. I think they are turning it into a college annex now. I’d like to go back and see what it looks like. Or perhaps I should just stay away and remember it as it was.
In the beginning the mall included a 3 screen movie theatre. Me and my brother tried to sneak into our first movie theatre rated R movie. But the ticket boy caught us crawling on our hands and knees right before we could enter The Serpent and the Rainbow. That was also the theatre were we spent several summers prior marking off our “Summer Movie Camp” cards. Every day of the week they showed a discounted movie for kids. It was the first time we got dropped off at the mall by ourselves. Our neighbor Jason would usually accompany us and his mom was so cheap she would have him stash cans of Big K sodas and Dollar Store-bought boxes of Jujubes and Chocolate Stars in his trench coat pockets. He shared.
The food court back then was not a myriad of ethnic culinary delights as mall food courts are now. I think the most exotic place was Picnic Pizza, owned and operated by a real Italian family. Why they chose to relocate to Antioch I do not know. My brother’s favorite place was Hot Dog on a Stick. He would get not one but two “Cheese Bars” which were huge logs of cheese on a stick, dipped and fried in batter. I did not partake in the infamous cheese bar but rather stared longingly at the various flavors tempting me from behind the glass at the Swenson’s counter. “That ice-cream is high” my mom said so many times. I think she only let me get their outrageously expensive ice cream twice before they turned it into a Sunglass Hut.
But she did occasionally let us buy candy from the Sears candy stand. Yes, Sears had a candy stand between Women’s Sleepwear and Automotives. You could smell the hot caramel and roasted nuts five sections away. There’s something mildly rebellious about eating confectionaries while shopping at a department store.
JCPenney’s had a hair salon and that’s where I got my first real ‘do and met Carson, my hairdresser for the next twenty years. I went from blunt bangs and long mane to the female mullet. My brother was so jealous. “Why can’t I get a cool haircut?” he demanded. Now he laughs at old photos of me.
Later a shoe store called Journeys opened and provided me and my brother with our first trendy skateboarding shoes and me with hours and hours of
stalking staring at their top salesman. His long black hair and skate punk style left me completely star-struck and unable to utter more than a quivering “No, I’m just looking” anytime I actually went into the store when he was working.
I watched the mall change during those three decades. The flowing fountains and draping greenery changed to ceramic brick to accompany room for kiosks. The sunken dining area of the food court leveled to make room for more ever-changing food stands. The movie theatre demolished and turned into a Dollar Tree. The arcade made it through with several name changes.
And I have so many memories from those decades. Begging for throwing stars from Oriental Way. Sitting in swinging basket chairs at World Bazaar. Watching puppies through the plexi glass cages at Pass Pets. Getting my ears pierced at Claire’s. Buying my first pair of parachute pants at Chess King. Buying my first school dance outfit at Deb’s. Hanging out on a Friday night and seeing that popular metal-head/punk guy named Wolf and wondering what the hell his story was. Visiting my first openly gay friend who worked at Wilson’s Leather. My own retail career at Wolf Camera and Video for 3 years.
I’m glad with the help of my parents and my brother I can relive those memories. I wish I could go back to the mall and see it just as it was back in 1984. What a trip that would be. But it will just have to exist in my mind.
So I make new memories at another mall where I have taken my son here and there for the last 11 years. We spent the day there the other day sipping lemonade and smelling candles we couldn’t afford and racing each other on the Fast and Furious arcade game. I hope he will remember in the years to come. God willing I hope I do too.