Willard, Springfield, and the Bluelight Special
Storified No. 1
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For a very long time, when it came to retail shopping, Willard, Missouri, remained little more than a nearly-barren satellite of Springfield. That was particularly true in the 1970s and 80s when retail offerings in Willard were extremely limited. In the days before Amazon, and unless you were willing to endure the painstaking wait of shopping by catalog, it was absolutely necessary to travel to Springfield for nearly everything that you needed. Those weekly trips to “the city” were just an inevitable part of small-town life.
Kmart, “the once-great retail giant on the edge of extinction”, used to dominate my family’s weekly shopping trips. And the Kmarts of the late 70s and early 80s offered several appealing attractions for preteen boys: quarter-a-ride mechanical horses outside the front entrance; a food counter that served two very colorful varieties of ICEEs that children were almost always force-marched past on their way out of the store; and a toy section “to die for” that always made you wish that Christmas came more than just once a year (in the late 70s, I emptied my piggy bank to buy Star Wars action figures at Kmart several times before hitting puberty).
Growing up in Willard in the 1970s meant that brothers and/or sisters regularly rode in the backseat of a family sedan on narrow roadways that once led to Springfield. But now, because of the online retail world, that “weekly shopping” doesn’t happen so much anymore (except for groceries).
When we were kids, my brother and I both dreaded hearing our mom say the words, “We’re going to town!” But I don’t really know why. Reflecting on those long-ago days, it seems as if the sun shone a bit brighter back then — “brighter” because the sun (like so many other things) was, for us, still relatively new.
I’d gladly give up the convenience of Amazon to be able to go back in time with my mom and my brother for one last ride on a mechanical horse; or for a “just this once” ice-cold ICEE; or to linger under the fluorescent lights of the Kmart toy aisle, hoping that far too many boxfuls of fun would show up under our Christmas tree.
Will my kids remember Amazon deliveries — that quick knock at the door from a disappearing driver — the same special way that I remember being unwillingly dragged by my mother to Kmart? I doubt it. And somewhere along the way (though I’m not sure how or when), my dreaded trips to Kmart became, for my kids, those candy-for-a-nickel stories from the tales my parents used to tell.
Funny how that works. And funny how the fondest memories inevitably become a thicker mixture of sweetness and sadness with every passing year.