In a recent dream, I’m standing on the street outside the Crescent Confectionary in Calgary, the city where I grew up. The place is lit from within. A couple sits at a table next to the window, eating. I feel like the little match girl, on the outside, looking into this place where I once worked. When I was thirteen, I went with Chester, my stepdad, to the Confectionary, and he asked Mr. Larson, the owner, to give me a part-time job. Chester bought all of our food there on credit, paying the bill when he was flush.
A toothless Mr. Larson looked me over and said he’d try me out. Drool gathered in the creases of his wizened face and dripped off his chin. Both Mr. Larson and his daughter Bert wore deeply soiled aprons; grime filled every seam in their hands; tobacco stains turned their index fingers brown; and Bert’s hair (Mr. Larson didn’t have much left) seemed to have been washed in oil. They often worked with a cigarette dangling from the corner of their mouth, ashes falling into grocery bags and produce.
But in the dream, the Confectionary is now a restaurant, having undergone a major revision under new owners. From the shadows, an unfamiliar woman appears. I tell her I’ve dreamt frequently of this place. She says she dreams of it too, at least six times a year. I’m surprised to hear that someone else has been impacted by the store. When I worked there, it was a confectionary, but candies were a minor item, not featured. In addition to a soda fountain—where we made milk shakes, sundaes, banana splits, and floats—groceries, toys, clothes, magazines, and cosmetics crammed the two rooms.
I partially came of age in that store. It was my first official job other than babysitting. Mr. Larson paid me 35 cents an hour, an amount that seemed huge at the time—the early ‘50s. I had to interact with a variety of people, serving them at the counter. I also had to lug wooden crates of soft drinks from the basement upstairs, as well as boxes of canned goods, shelving them and dusting the rest.
Chester actually ended up paying my salary, though he didn’t realize it. Whenever he made a purchase, either Mr. Larson or Bert wrote down each thing in cramped handwriting on the stained sheets of a ruled notebook. The paper curled at the edges and the ink ran. There was no cash register tape to itemize each purchase. It was all based on trust, but I knew from watching Bert and Mr. Larson that they weren’t trustworthy. I had seen them put a little extra weight on the scale when they were weighing sliced sandwich meat—bologna, spiced ham, salami. Nothing prevented them from padding the monthly bill they gave my stepdad, and he never questioned the charges, grateful that they let him buy things when he didn’t have the cash up front.
A crescent signifies an early stage in the moon’s monthly evolution. When I worked at the Crescent Confectionery, I also was at an early stage in my life. Just as the crescent moon is limited in what it can illuminate, so too was I restricted at that time. I not only didn’t know what my future had in store for me, but I also didn’t appear to have a future. Chester didn’t think girls needed to be educated. College certainly wasn’t a consideration for me. I could have worked at the Confectionery well into adulthood and beyond—or held a similar dead-end job.
I didn’t, though I couldn’t have foreseen a future then that did include college and many other triumphs.
In the dream, I told the woman that I had once lived just a couple of blocks away from the store. Just uttering those words made me cry, there still being much emotion attached to that house where I had spent some of my formative years, as well as to the Confectionery, where I first ventured into the world.
Yes, I’ve changed since the early ‘50s, and so has the store. A restaurant now, at least in the dream, it can nourish those who enter its doors, sending them back into the world refreshed and renewed, ready to meet the perils of Covid19.