by Johnny Guano
Descriptions of Mid-Century Suburban life, Idealized. May Be True Or Not
|Fairmount Hills had a quonset hut grocery store. Nowadays you might think of quonset huts as cheap, temporary structures, but back then they were seen as modern, portable, and versatile inventions. They were symbolic of American ingenuity. They symbolized industrial progress. The little store was in operation for four years, before they opened up the massive "Foodliner" supermarket nearby. The Foodliner Corporation had wanted to get into the action before construction of the big store began.
The new families of Fairmount Hills were arriving at a geometric rate, and they needed a constant supply of provisions. Here was fertile ground for post war marketing. A few months after the first little suburban cape cod went up, Foodliner assembled this little forty by one hundred foot army surplus quonset hut, cut a display window in the front, added a big refrigeration system in the back, and plugged in a neon sign that said: FOODLINER GROCERIES.
This was more than a great marketing scheme. The men all wanted to shop at the quonset hut, even though some of them had been conditioned to think grocery shopping was for the women. Why? Because most of them had been used to quonset supply huts from the service, and fetching stuff there seemed like a familiar and necessary chore. They weren't exactly 'shopping', they reasoned, they were 'retrieving rations.' They had known quonset huts on islands in the Pacific, on fields in England, on hills in Korea, on missile test ranges in the Nevada desert. Now in their new modern suburban spreads, they'd even take their sons with them, to shop, to 'retrieve', to pick up gallons of milk and pork chops.
The Foodliner quonset hut had four long racks of shelves, two registers, and a cramped area in the back for frozen foods, meat and dairy products. It was brightly lit by overhead rows of fluorescent tubes and skylights, and ventilated by long aluminum ducts. The floor was hard concrete covered with spiky rubber mats, impossible to push carts on, so wire hand baskets were provided.The whole place had a hard smell of cement, rubber, and metal, far removed from food. This was modern eating at its best, everything canned, boxed, or frozen, very distant from the growing fields.
For me, who was only eight when the store opened, there was no interest in food, but there was a damned good reason for going. Up front, near the check out, there was a small wooden rack for candy bars and bubble gum, and a revolving wire display next to it for comic books. These books always had fascinating and brightly colored pictures of cowboys and space men and soldiers, all blazing away with six guns, ray guns and machine guns. Together with the display of chocolate and gum, it was the most attractive part of the store. At least for me.
During warm weather my father would always walk the quarter mile to the store, almost every night. I would always go with him. The locusts were forever raging in the trees. He was quiet when he walked, moving swiftly in his Ban-Lon shirts and neat pressed khakis. We would pass new construction, the frames rising on the treeless lots, smelling of fresh cut pine and wet cement. When we got to the store my father would always pause to examine a new Pontiac Catalina or a Plymouth Belvedere before he went in. There was always something in the lot for him to gaze critically at.
We would buy only one or two things, stocking up little by little. Usually it was boxes of frozen peas or jars of applesauce. Very rarely it was Nestles Crunch bars and the latest issue of GI COMBAT FEATURING THE HAUNTED TANK. When we left the store, twilight was always just beginning, and the sun was just going down in the horizon in a faint halo of orange. It was always the start of summer.