Triggering Special Memories

October 7, 2010

George Larson in Larson's Groceries & Market in Henderson, Michigan
You know how the certain feel of a place takes you back in time? Or a random scent instantly triggers a memory?

There’s an old, general store near us and whenever I walk across its creaky floor I’m reminded of my grandparents’ store in Henderson, MI. And, once, just once somewhere else, I caught a whiff of something that instantly took me back to the bathroom of their apartment above that store, a room with pink tiles and the unique scent of soap combined with my grandmother’s toiletries.

These triggers are special. They’re two of many that bring a flood of memories of the grocery store owned by my grandparents George and Ruth Larson. It was an old-fashioned, family-owned kind of store in an old-fashioned-family-kind-of-village. Only now as an adult, do I realize how much of my childhood is in that store.

Isn’t the above picture cool?

It was taken in 1950 (well before my time), and it shows the store four years after they bought it. That’s my grandfather George, dressed meticulously beneath his grocer’s apron. Yes, he’s wearing a tie. But look, he’s also got his sleeves rolled up—he was finally able to let loose after all those years in a Chicago office.

In a 1990 video interview, my grandmother Ruth describes the store during those early years of their ownership. She says at first it was like “an old, country store.”

“There was just one long counter with stocks behind on shelves. We had one of those things to get things down that were way up high,” says Ruth, as she’s reaching with her arms. “And to slice the cold meats, you had to do it by hand.”

Little by little, George built new island shelves, added a glass meat counter and an ice cream freezer.

“And he built the walk-in cooler. He went up to Midland (MI) and brought the insulation home,” Ruth says matter-of-factly of my grandfather’s ingenuity. “He built all that himself.”

Larson Grocery & Market, Henderson, MI; family and friends

This photo was taken in 1948, two years after they moved to Henderson.

In back (l-r), are family friends Roy Pederson, Ruth, and Frieda Pederson. In the middle are Carol (George and Ruth’s daughter, and my mother) and Nancy Pederson. In front are Coyla (Jeanie) McCargar (my mother’s best friend and later her sister-in-law) and Judith (George and Ruth’s daughter).

Note the architectural details on the false store-front.

Ruth Larson and her daughters Judith and Carol

This is the only photo I have of the apartment above their store. Taken in 1952, there’s Ruth on the left, and her daughters Judith (playing piano) and Carol.

Check out the handsome Navy-dude in the picture on the piano! That’s my dad, and the next year, in August 1953, he and my mom (Carol) were married.

Larson's Grocery & Market, Henderson, MI

Taking down the false front in 1954.

George Larson in Larson's Grocery & Market, Henderson, MI

Here’s the store in 1958, with the island shelves George built. And look, the tie is gone!

As a child years later in the 60s, I remember running my hand along plastic tracks on the front edge of each shelf where George had carefully inserted product prices. I remember dragging the inserts all the way from one end of the track to the other, bunching them together along the way.

My grandfather, gentle and quiet man that he was, simply said to me, “Please don’t do that.”

George Larson at his desk

"Head man at his desk!" by Ruth Larson

This picture, and the caption my grandmother wrote on the back, says it all.

Here’s my grandfather at his roll-top desk. Perhaps this piece of furniture, more than any other, best represents their store. If you look closely at the very top picture, in the right corner you can see the open doorway into a back room. Here in this room was the “head man’s” desk and here’s where he kept his detailed books.

When my grandparents sold their store, they gave the desk to my mother, who later gave it to my brother.

Here’s another furniture piece from the store. I remember this bookcase sitting along side George’s desk in the back room. I remember my grandmother pulling out glasses, often old jelly jars, and giving us drinks of water. Such a simple thing, but something I always loved.

I now have this bookcase in my home.

Wicker rocking chair from Larson's Grocery and Market

This rocking chair, which I also now have, is one I remember being in the back room. In the video, however, my grandmother says they also used it in the store. Sure enough, if you look closely at the very top picture (maybe even magnify your screen, ctrl +), you can see the chair back against the white wall, underneath the two advertising posters. It had dark cushions then.

“There was a big, square register in the floor,” describes Ruth. “The rocker sat there. In the wintertime, when people would come in and they’d be cold, they’d go and sit in that rocker.”

I wish I’d thought to ask my grandmother if these furniture pieces came with the store. I wonder how many people warmed themselves in this wonderful chair? Or how old the books are that originally were kept in that magnificent desk?

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10 Responses to “Triggering Special Memories”

  1. Dave Says:

    I believe I heard that Grandpa took down the fake store front himself, working on it evenings and weekends after the store closed. I don’t know if Dad was home from the Navy at that time or not.

  2. Terri Says:

    I remember hearing that Grandpa took down the front, too. Grandpa also built the exterior staircase to the apartment after Great Grandma came to live with them. (Grandpa built the first real steps for our house on Waugh Rd too. A real carpenter!)
    I never realized that they had only been in the store 10 years when I was born… does that age me?
    Noxema skin cream is what triggers memories of Grandma’s bathroom. I remember once sitting on the edge of the tub and watching her wash her face.

  3. Terri Says:

    Also in the top picture…check out the tiny little black maryjane shoe and white lacey sock next to Grandpa. In 1958 I would have been 2 yrs old.

    Grandpa Larson’s office chair was red.

  4. dave Says:

    Remember the big floor safe in back room of the store?

    • adunate Says:

      Vaguely. Where was it at?

      My kids once did an interesting experiment. They each drew a floorplan of the mobile home we lived in until they were 4-5 years old. They all were hilariously inaccurate.

      It would be fun to do this for the store. Let me post your scans so Aunt Judy can tell us how off our memories are:-)

  5. dave Says:

    The safe was on the wall opposite Grandpa’s desk. I think his chair had wheels and he would roll back and forth between the desk and the safe. It seems like the safe was grey with a big logo on the door. I think the safe was on wheels too.

    Can you confirm any of this, Terri? You must have been close to adulthood at that time. :)

  6. dave Says:

    I remember us kids goofing around in the store’s attic, or at least being brave enough to climb the stairs up to the foot of the attic. Wasn’t there a heavy-duty green partition/curtain thingy in the doorway to the attic? Didn’t we also once convince one of us kids (who?) to be momemtarily shut in a trunk in the attic?

  7. dave Says:

    Dixie cups tricked my memory of the bathroom at the store. I remember the Dixie cup dispenser on the bathroom wall.

  8. dave Says:

    I meant triggered, not tricked

  9. Aunt Judy Says:

    I really enjoyed “Triggering Special Memories”. When I was living at home, the safe you referred to was under some shelves to the right of my dad’s desk. And I do remember that rocker. It was in the back of the store by the floor register, and the folks would sit there and read the Owosso Argus Press, and once in a while Dad would take a little snooze. At some time they moved it to the back room as we have a picture of Grandpa in the rocker holding Rachel. Do you know the history of that bookcase? There are two of them, and they came from our home in Chicago. They were on either side of the fireplace in our living room. Your mom and I each got one of them and mine is now in Jonathan’s home. I’m really enjoying hearing all the memories you Amos kids have of Grandpa & Grandma Larson and the store in Henderson. Thanks so much!


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