The small town and old fashioned way of shopping

Shopping and socializing in Ashcroft

by Esther Darlington MacDonald

In our old Fort Rouge neighborhood in Winnipeg, a very blue collar district with a mix of commercial and cottages and three storey houses, shopping meant three or four stop offs at various establishments.

Today, everyone goes to the big box one-stop shopping stores where they can usually get everything they need. From a bottle of cologne to a pair of socks.  From a porterhouse steak to a sack of hamburger patties for the barbecue.

But Ashcroft, God bless it, is just like the old neighborhood on a busy  Saturday morning. For example. This morning, I had five stops to make. It pretty well filled the morning.

To Fields for some bedsheets. To the Dollar Store for sundry items including flowers for my brother’s gravesite in Ashcroft Cemetery. I have to add that Sandy Williams apologized for the limited display. She said there had been three funerals in Lillooet, and “they’d cleaned her out.” But I found a couple of nice sprigs and bought some kitchen items. And thence to the Credit Union to pay a bill. And thence to the car wash to wash the Echo. Which our daily avian visitors had sprinkled liberally with you-know-what. And thence to the supermarket to buy weekend groceries. And it was there that I met a very nice lady who I complained to about the calories yogurt contained. Just a half a cup. And you see those ads on TV with that slender chick slurping it up with joy on her face. (Probably the only meal slender thing had eaten that day). Actually, I discovered that 4 per cent cottage cheese had fewer calories. Go figure.

Anyway, that’s another thing you can do in Ashcroft when you are out and about on Railway. You meet people. Chat in the aisles of the supermarket or on the sidewalk at the Farmers’ Market, or sit in the bakery for a cuppa and a good chew about nothing much, but good for some laughs. Or have breakfast at Mom’s and very nearly always, see people you know doing the same. It’s not about eating so much. Or buying. (As it is in the big box city stores.) It’s about, well, dare I say it in this day and age of e mails and cell phones and ipods and blackberries and email and Facebook, and other impersonal, and (I think) superficial encounters – actually meeting people face to face and talk to each other. Good grief! Imagine! In this day and age!

The road to sanity they say is paved with good intentions. You intended to write that letter. But didn’t get around to it. Or, if you did, pen in hand, you couldn’t think of a damn thing to write about. Other than “I hope you are well, I am fine” sort of greeting. You intended to make that visit or call someone on that old fashioned instrument, the telephone, but you didn’t get around to it. Those long trips to Kamloops and those long hours shopping in the big boxes left you weary unto death when you got home.

“I am so busy!” a few will tell you. Hmmm. Busy? Busy doing what? But in truth, aren’t we all?

In our old Fort Rouge neighborhood in Winnipeg, people didn’t have to call to make a visit. They came. Stood at the door. Knocked. And, if you were home, you were glad to see them and made them a cup of tea and had a good jaw. And,  if you weren’t home, your intended visitors drifted off and stopped somewhere else to visit.

In our old neighborhood, friends of the family lived just up the street, a block or two away. There, I could read movie magazines, detective magazines about gruesome murders, – the stuff my mother forbade us to read at home. At home, it was Post, Liberty and Newsweek magazines. The stuff the library didn’t have. The stuff that the pharmacies carried. Without the porn you see today. That kids can see any day of the week. In my day, you had to walk 15 blocks or more to a Carnegie library. The only porn there was in the Art book section –  nudes by Rodin and some of those French artist’ paintings and sculptures, like Renoir, and Gaston LaChasse. You could pore over those for hours. Learn the facts of life. Were people really built like that? You know, those LaChasse sculptures were pretty solid, wide hipped, sloped shouldered ladies, with very small heads and very tiny breasts.

Anyway, village life hasn’t changed much in Ashcroft for the last couple of generations. Ask Bob Tuohey, who was born in Ashcroft and has lived here all his life. Change, he will ask, what is that? Life’s even keel has not been shaken in Ashcroft. A grass fire on the cliffs above the town? A forest fire that cleaned most of Cornwall Mountain of its evergreen forests. The rare incident you dare not mention in print.

The significance of village life is, that we are living in each other’s pockets, so to speak. Keeping something a secret is impossible.

We actually meet each other. Talk to each other. Gossip. Relate. Grieve with each other. Celebrate with each other. And, of course shop with each other. Like we’ve done for the last 126 years. Today, that is called Extended Family.

Isn’t that kind of wonderful? I mean. In this day and age.