Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Just Whistle

If you got caught stealing an ice cream bar, my Great Uncle Dale would stop you in your tracks. 
And talk to you until your pocket became a soggy mess. 
Talk to you until that ice cream bar you thought you were getting for free became nothing but a puddle in you pocket. 
If you skipped school, like my cousin Bill did, you had to work extra hours sweeping the floors. 
The smell of fresh meat being butchered wafted through the store. 
Rows of staples like flour and canned beans were within easy reach. 
Candy was situated by the checkout girl. 
Gneckows Grocery store. 
The grocery store that my Great Uncle Howard and his brother Harvey owned after buying it from a fellow named Emery Gneckow. 
A grocery store that was never visited by me. 
Gneckows Grocery has become a shop of memories for me. 
Memories that were told to me by my dad and his family. 
My dad worked in Uncle Howard's store as a kid. 
Uncle Howard was a butcher. 
By the time that I came around, Uncle Howard was a butcher elsewhere. 
Because Gneckows had closed. 
Harvey dropped dead in the store. 
And that was the end of it all. 
I remember going to see him at the new market. 
He wore a long white apron and, as I sit here typing this, I can see him standing behind the meat counter. 
Tall, slim, and white haired with the biggest grin on his face. 
Always the big grin. 
And always doing that thing butchers do with their hands. 
Wiping the fronts and backs of his tools onto his apron. 
His tools being his hands that held the knives that dissected the animal into something you would take home to eat. 

In my memories as a child, there were only small groceries in town. 
Where everyone knew you when you walked in. 
People said hello to one another and there were only six aisles to go down. 
Standing at the big meat counter. 
The counter that soared over my head. 
But one that had a large clear viewing window. 
I could press my face against it and listen as my grandmother ordered chuck roasts, pork chops, and pounds of beef from her brother in law. 
And I would get some candy at the checkout counter. 
The days of the family grocery store are over for my family. 
But I have a piece of it in my house. 

Whistle Orange Soda was made by the Vess Soda Co in the late 1900s. 
Produced first in St Louis, then distributed in other Midwest towns. 
This clock used to reside in Gneckows Grocery. 
Telling mothers how much time they had before the kids got home from school. 
Better hurry up with your purchase, the Whistle clock says its 2:45. 
My dad got this clock from his Uncle Howard. 
And it hung in his garage for many years. 
I don't remember if it was plugged in while resting in my dad's garage. 
But I took it and used it as a source of both nostalgia and as a time piece in my apartment in Chicago after college. 
And it was working well until maybe ten years ago. 
Then it went backwards. 
The dials started turning counter clockwise. 
Was the clock was trying to go back?
Trying to go back to the past when it was vibrantly colored and full of new life. 
Was Whistle remembering its own past when it hung over the chubby checkout lady who was shoving money from the register into her pockets?
Was it remembering how useful it had been and now it just sat in a young couple's apartment collecting dust?
We unplugged it. 
But it's always moved with us. 
Around to different Chicago apartments. 
To the suburbs. 
And finally back to it's hometown.
Once my husband and I found a Whistle soda bottle at an antique fair. 
What a thrill that was.
We have since found two other bottles to add to our collection. 

I think Uncle Howard would be tickled to see Just Whistle hanging in our home. 
The home his wife, my Great Aunt Marie, grew up in. 
The home that Uncle Dale grew up in.
The home that helped raise my dad, Bobby Dale.  
The home that has stayed while everything else has gone. 
Nothing exists where Gneckows Grocery once stood. 
An alley is still there, but an empty lot surrounded by derelict homes is all that remains. 
My dad has his memories. 
His memories of stocking shelves and sweeping floors for Uncle Howard.
I'll get Just Whistle moving again. 
I'll find a clock repair shop. 
I hope. 
Those may be as hard to come by these days as are smiles from the checkout lady at the super mega grocery store. 


  1. What a nice thing to read this morning. I grew up with a small town general store one house away with a dirt path in between. I always wanted to rescue the wooden bench that sat on its porch. Carved heavy with initials, hearts, and arrows. I've searched for years but no one knows what happened to it. I'm glad you have your clock.

    1. I'm glad to have the clock, too. And you never know, one day you may find that bench!!