Love and Woolworth’s

A morning music mix of Nanci Griffith songs pulls up one of my favorites, “Love at the Five and Dime”. I first heard this song in the 80s and often listened to it several times in a row. Today, at 60, this song has the same appeal as I listen to it for the fifth time since it played.

The beauty of the song is the sweetness of a tender love that lasts through life trials. Griffith’s voice adds to the sweetness as she sings a little quieter, “…dance a little closer.” Tenderness is also represented in the guitar interludes, as the guitar connects the verses with a lullaby to love.

In a world where tenderness is seen as weakness or passe, the reasons to like this song as a lasting one are covered summarily in the paragraphs above. For me, however, this song brings a flood of loving memories every time I hear it. Not because I’ve had an everlasting love, but because it brings back my own memories of Woolworth in the 70s.

For the younger generation, Woolworth is now non-existent. Even though I am old enough to remember and experience Woolworth, back then,I had to ask mom what they meant by “the five and dime”.

A man named Frank Winfield Woolworth founded Woolworth’s stores. In the late 1870’s Frank Woolworth was working in a small grocery store as a clerk when he came up with the idea to sell cheap 5 cent items at the counter.[1]

By the 1970s, Woolworth had made it to the South. It was our version of “the dollar store” but things cost 5 ¢ or 10¢, something expensive might cost a quarter. Of course, this is all from the viewpoint of an elementary school kid from rural Stanly County, NC. Our small town, Oakboro, didn’t have a Woolworth. The only Woolworth I knew of was in Charlotte, close to where my dad had a barbershop on Sharon Amity. Southpark was the new fancy mall in the city. Woolworth was on the first floor near the Sears.

We didn’t go there often because the mall was so far from the house. Mostly, we went there to look for Easter clothes or Christmas gifts. Since dad worked until six, we would go ahead to the Woolworth. Mom always allowed us to buy a little something. The most special thing about Woolworth’s, however, is as we waited to meet deddy, we ate in the diner. We always wanted to sit at the counter but that Woolworth was always crowded. Every time I hear this song, I rejoice in the love mentioned in the song, but also in a shared meal with my mom, sister, and later dad in Woolworth.

Hearing the ring of Griffith’s guitar brings back memories of the bell that rang in Woolworth’s. They didn’t have an elevator, but a friend who worked in Charlotte department stores in that decade said the bell in most department stores in Charlotte signified a sale. As kids, we never knew what the bell meant and even mom had no answer for that question.

Mom and dad were in their thirties then. Dad was a handsome country fellow and mom a beautiful woman also from the country, but savvier on the ways of the city than dad. He may have had his own barbershop there, but he never ventured far from the shop. He only drove from our home in Oakboro to the barbershop, stopping to eat breakfast or lunch at a greasy spoon called “The Fork and Knife.”

Though I have no memories of us buying anything but a meal at Woolworth’s, and no memories of the conversations we had after dad joined us, I remember his handsome smile as he sat down glad to see us. Mom was smiling to my left because my sister wanted to sit beside deddy. There was a tuna melt, a grilled cheese sandwich, fries, but what floods my heart most is the love; the love of mom and dad for each other and then also, their love for us and ours for them. Going to Woolworth’s was always special.

As Griffith talks about the smells of the popcorn and remembering the sticky floors (what was that anyway?), sweet memories flood my heart with love. Then she sings, “…love’s on sale at the five and dime”. All I can think of is how Woolworth’s is long gone, but the love my family gave to me in that simple meal in the diner will last forever.


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