Going Out of Business
I went into “Ginger’s” Tuesday morning to get myself a biscuit on the way to work. This is a treat I allow myself once per week (unless I have PMS, in which case I will get as many biscuits as I damn-well please). Most everything was as it always was: the biscuits were lined up in the little glass-doored warmer, each one wrapped in grease-spotted paper and hand-labeled in ink. Plain. Sausage. Bologna. The air smelled faintly of cigarettes. A young man dressed in camouflage, another costumer or, more likely, a friend of Ginger’s, was seated at the little oak dinette set she put out a couple of years back for loiterers. Ginger stood behind the register.
The counter, as always, was crowded with impulse buys. There were copies of “North Georgia Busted,” a weekly newsprint publication which features mug shots of recently-arrested townsfolk. There were cellophane-wrapped pieces of fudge the size of alphabet blocks to the left of the counter and, to the right, 50 cent energy shots (where “50 cent” denotes the rapper/entertainer endorsing the drink, not the cost. They actually run $1.79.) The plastic jar Ginger keeps out to collect loose change for the local pregnancy center was out, same as always. The only thing amiss was a little sign taped to the door.
“Going Out Of Business. Everything 25% off.” It was written in the same hand as the labels on the biscuit paper. Ginger’s hand.
“What is this about going out of business?” I asked. I considered that she was discontinuing a product line from a specific vendor.
“Me. The store. I’m closing up. Listen, I’m going to give you a little discount on that,” she said, motioning to my breakfast, “because that batch got kinda dried out and hard on the sides.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but why are you going out of business?”
Ginger looked at the gentleman in the hunting apparel and she laughed a little. Quick and bitter. Heh! “Well that is a looong story. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
I could feel the guy in camo staring at me, so I looked over my shoulder and met his gaze. He gave me a look that said, “Please don’t ask her,” and I nodded once to let him know that I understood.
“I don’t guess it is any of my business.” I said. “Sorry to hear it, though.”
“Yeah, well, you’re sorry. Everybody is sorry. But I’m not,” she said brightly. Effortfully. “I’m retiring!” And she was sorrier than anybody. I could just tell.
“Well, then I am happy for you, Ginger.” I said, playing along. “What are you going to do with your big sign out front?”
“Why, you want it?” she asked.
“Yeah. I have always liked that sign. A friend of mine actually took a photograph of it for me. It is framed and in my kitchen, if you can believe it. My name is Ginger, too.” I stopped short of telling her that my blog is named after her store because I doubted that would make sense to her.
“Well, what will you give me for it?” she asked.
“How much do you want for it?”
The outdoorsy fella got up from the table at this point and joined us at the counter. He was amused by the negotiation between his friend and the goody-two-shoes biscuit eater. I know guys like him. He thinks I have more money than sense. Maybe I do.
“How about 50 bucks?” Ginger offered.
“Done!” I said. The hunter smiled and smacked his hand on the counter.
I didn’t try to talk her down. What do I care? I suspect her brand of “retirement” does not involve a Roth IRA or anything. I know she will put 50 dollars to good use, and I certainly can’t live without an eight-foot sign that has my name on it.
I arrived at work a few minutes later. High on refined carbohydrates and commerce, I texted both Michele and Todd about the acquisition. Michele couldn’t believe my luck. Todd wanted to know (with three question marks) what the hell I intended to do with it. This was a rhetorical question. I had no practical idea as to what I would do with this monstrosity, and he knew I didn’t.
The Calhoun Times ran a nice article about the closing of “Ginger’s Grocery” later that week. It had two colored pictures and discussed Ginger’s plans for the future. She is going to care for her 87 year old mother full time and to volunteer as a chaplain at the hospital where I work. It quoted Ginger as saying, “It’s been good, I haven’t regretted it, even after losing everything I don’t regret it because I have had so many blessings here in the people that I know. It’s like I feel a part of something because I know all these people, I might not know them intimately, but I know something about them and it makes me connected in a way.”
She made me feel connected, too. I felt connected to her, to her aging mother, to the guy in camouflage, and to the many people I saw linger at that little oak table over the past few years. I like places like “Ginger’s” in a country where businesses, more and more, are franchised; where one town is distinguishable from another by name only. I prefer cigarette-scented comradery to pine-fresh anonymity any day of the week. Especially on biscuit day.