Calling Occupants of the Apothecary Craft

Somerville Avenue, where we lived at number 1417 from 1959 until 1965, had the only traditional street-name in an otherwise planet-themed sub-suburb: Planet Street, Jupiter Bay, Mercury Bay, Mars Drive and so on. The developers were prescient in omitting Pluto—some years later stripped of its planetary status—and cleverly sidestepped the Uranus problem by mapping two Venus Bays (in fact culs-de-sac, aptly enough): one East and one West. We Somervillians felt a bit posh and special, even though our houses were same-ish little boxes just like the ones in the streets of space, and were dwarfed by the split-levels and two-storey monsters spinning round the outer orbits. Just by way of overworking the cosmic metaphor, I would remind you that a solar system needs a Sun and Giver of Life, and in my opinion ours was Ringer’s.

Ringer's Drug Store, Winnipeg, Manitoba

The signage suggests that they too saw themselves in that light. I wish I could tell you that’s my old bike out front—and it does look familiar—though clearly the picture was taken way past my bedtime. But if you look about an inch below the “c” in “Prescriptions” and cross your eyes, you may just catch a ghostly glimpse of an ancient pack of Mackintosh Toffees sliding of its own accord into a tiny boy’s tiny left hand.

The building still stands, having been sans-Ringer for some years, at the corner of Somerville & Pembina Highway. It was up for lease (vacant, I think) last year, and I must admit to having had a fleeting notion to fly back, pay the money, sign the papers, move in, restock it with all the former merchandise I could find, and live out my twilight years shoplifting cigarettes and junk food from myself, reading Superman and Archie for free, choosing between Lois Lane & Lana Lang / Betty & Veronica and winding up with Miss Grundy. But no, Thomas Wolfe and the Shangri-Las were probably right.

Not every product at Ringer’s was itching to be released into my care, of course. Most of the sweet things and all of the comic books may as well have been nailed down. The Old Dutch Potato Chips (Onion ‘n’ Garlic. Yum.) made too much noise. The cute and shiny red “Be careful! You could take an eye out with that thing!” Swingline Staplers were easygoing enough, but how many staplers or one-eyed friends can one boy use?

A youthful and perhaps over-earnest concern for the health of our planet led Me and Kenny McGhie to come up with a precursor to “sustainability”, years before it became fashionable and then mainstream. This was The Multiple Redemption of Empty Pop Bottles at Two Cents a Time System, or TMROEPBATCATS, as we abbreviated it for convenience and obfuscation.  What you did was you took a six-pack of empties into Ringer’s and redeemed it for twelve cents, ten of which went immediately on one of the above cash-only items, and then exited, two cents to the good. A while later you would retrieve that six-pack, or one just like it, from the storage area out back, return through the front door, redeem, spend, and so on, as many times as you dared in the one day. In that almost all of the cash went straight back into Ringer’s registers, Me & KM would have called this a “win-win scenario”, had the term existed back then. As a retired retailer, I sense I should be spotting a flaw here, but dawgblast it, I jess cain’t…

Around about here I could segue into a nicer story—warmer, and free of any larceny or nose-thumbing— about Ringer’s, Somerville Avenue, a cold and crystalline Christmas Eve, and the truth of agape, but I’ll save it till the season is right, not much more than a Mercury-year from now. I’ll give you its featured song here and now, though, apposite as it is to both little tales: I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, from Händel’s Messiah. sung by our lovely Québécoise soprano Karina Gauvin….. always on high rotate in my heart. Rotate. Get it?









How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

My dad used to say you could mend anything with library paste. I suppose I should have challenged him on this when, at age eleven, I found that no amount of library paste would mend a broken heart. But a broken heart wasn’t something to be discussed with a dad, or with a librarian, for that matter. And anyway, my dad wasn’t someone you challenged on anything, let alone his knowledge of the science and romance of librarianship.

Mothers are more receptive to questions about broken hearts, and mine suggested that time generally does the trick. She was right, of course, but it was to be another forty-odd years before I realized this, having in the meantime self-administered various other miracle cures (not all for that same heartbreak!), none of which was any more efficacious than library paste. Some didn’t even taste any better.

It is the Beatles’ fault that I find myself thinking about this today. Every day this year seems to be the fiftieth anniversary of Beatle this or Beatle that. I had hoped in vain that no one else would notice, and that memories of my 1964 would remain undisturbed by the banalities of others. Oh well.  My own contribution to the banality is to tell you that in matters of the heart, when your rival is a Beatle (and not just any Beatle, but the super-cool George, dammit!), you lose, chum.  Not so banal is Reba McEntire’s  If I Fell,  arguably the best ever cover version of a Beatles song. I may have to give up trying to nail the sublime guitar solo on my own bedroom-model Telecaster: if I smash it up in frustration, I have nothing but library paste for the putting back together again.

It’s Kenny McGhie’s birthday today, by the way. When I started writing about Winnipegland I expected I’d be offering you the occasional ripping yarn from the exploits of “Me & Kenny McGhie”, but after the first little story and a false start on a second, I realized that I have been delusional for decades; that in fact we were two extraordinarily well-behaved little boys. In my memory I’ve been persisting with a cute mythical formula by which he would get us into trouble and I would smart-talk our way out of it. Now that I think of it, though, it’s clear I was perfectly capable of creating trouble for myself, and, if caught, would be more likely to burst into tears than into unimpeachable cleverness. The same would have gone for Kenny, I guess, albeit with fewer tears and more cojones.  Happy birthday, my little pal. In Winnipegland time you are twelve today. I’ll catch up to you in a few weeks, and then it will be time for both of us to stop growing up.