1953 Nash Ambassador

It is the 1950’s, a Friday night, and we need to go grocery shopping.  We have one car, a 1953 Nash Ambassador Super, black body with a red top, Continental wheel, straight 6 engine, three on the tree, and overdrive. A righteous car. We all pile in the car, Dad, me, my elder brother in the front, Mama, my sister, my younger brother in the back.  That’s the we way we did riding in the car. Mother did not drive. We had just one car anyway.

We went to the A&P. Some people went to the Safeway; some people shopped at the Colonial Store; some went to Siegel’s (run by brothers Hip and Charlie). There were other local independent supermarkets and superettes (so asserted Richfood, the local buyers’ co-op).  But we went to the A&P.  To a child’s mind, this was almost like our religious affiliation. We were Presbyterians on Sunday who shopped at the A&P on Friday and we all rode in the same car to go to both church and store.  “God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with the world.” 

We would shop.  Dad preferred Bokar Coffee, available only at A&P.  That’s probably why we went. Dad was as serious about his coffee as he was about this country, the Marine Corps, the Presbyterian Church and the Republican Party.  Coffee was serious business in his family. His father (Pop) called it “Arbuckles”. The first coffee I ever tasted was what Pop gave to me from a spoon, with cream.  Still the best coffee I ever tasted.

The A&P was on Meadowbridge Road in Highland Park, near a fire station.  The neighborhood was transitioning from all-white to all-black.   Next to the A&P was a High’s Ice Cream Store. It was a local chain, that had chrome steel swivel stools at the counters.  They sold ice cream at five cents a scoop. The single scoop cone had a pointy end. Sometimes we would be mean to my sister and bite the tip off her cone. (I think she forgave us for this. At least I hope so.)  The High’s Stores were staffed by these little old ladies who wore pale pastel-green dresses (like the old fashioned nurses’ uniforms) and hairnets, white hairnets.  As drug addiction grew in the Richmond area, the junkies would rob the High’s Stores to get the money for a fix..  Eventually the High’s Stores went out of business and the junkies moved on to the 7-Elevens.

Ice cream was a big deal. On a hot summer night, we would get in the car, ride to High’s, Dairy Queen, Tastee Freez, or the Curles’ Neck Dairy Bar.  When we went to Curles’ Neck, we could get an awesome maple nut ice cream.  Then we would ride down to Byrd Park and watch the illuminated fountain in the Fountain Lake.  It was fun.  It was free. My Dad, who worked between his civilian job and his Marine Reserve duty almost constantly, loved this time with his children.  We loved this time with him.

In retrospect, all of these simple pleasures were living on borrowed time.  What destroyed them was affluence and the advertisers who promoted bigger and better versions of fun.  So now we go to Disney World or Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion, for better or worse.