Author’s Note: Maybe I’m too much of a neophyte in the craft of writing to have seen it coming. When one of my Facebook friends posted a nostalgic status update last fall about Grandview Plaza and Truman Corners, I immediately conceived of writing what I thought would be a witty, humorous piece from the perspective of a young boy about a shopping center of his youth and the perceived trials and tribulations with which it was fraught. But I’m learning that stories and columns and “pieces” rarely leave the station of my mind and arrive, unaltered, at their intended destinations. Somewhere along the way they get hijacked, commandeered, or just plain take me on a Sunday drive in the country. Such is the case with what you’re about to read. The hoped-for wit came slowly; the humor sluggishly, and I’m all the better for it. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you appreciate, even if just a little better, someone who shaped you into who you are today.
Truman Corners Circa Early 1960s. Photo Courtesy Jackson County Advocate
If you grew up in Grandview, Missouri, you may remember that in the age before Z-Packs, Dr. Hoeper’s nurse Eleanor would be very pleased to end your bacterial affliction by administering three (yes, count ‘em, three) shots of penicillin to “the hip.” You may also remember that before Worlds of Fun, a guy could entertain himself and his friends by finding his very own turtle and entering it in the Grandview Labor Day Festival turtle race. If he won he could get a whole two quarters. And you’re certain to remember that in the days before you had Wal-Mart or an appetite for the Plaza, you could bolster Grandview’s retail sales by shopping at Truman Corners.
Truman Corners and I got off to a rocky start. My earliest memory of there was being part of some type of photo shoot at which I was hoisted upon the lap of a fat, bearded man in a hideous red suit. He must’ve been running for Congress because he said he was there to help me and wanted to give me whatever I wanted. I slapped his elf’s candy cane away as he squeezed all of the December air out of my two-year-old lungs. I later discovered this man was an imposter. Not the actual Santa Claus, my mother informed me he was one of “Santa’s Helpers.” Lame.
Two or three years passed and I was playing baseball on a diamond down at the south end of Truman Corners--at approximately the modern-day location of the Sam’s Club freezer section. A five-year-old benchwarmer, my big break came when I was finally placed in left field as a late inning defensive replacement. Since there were no daisies in left field to capture my attention, my thoughts soon turned to how much I needed to use the bathroom. When such an urge overcomes a “Midget D” baseball player, it’s difficult to concentrate on what the other team’s batter may or may not be doing. Unfortunately, a sharp line drive was belted my way. My bladder must have kept me from moving fast enough to stop the ball and the batter became the proud recipient of an inside the park homer. I was promptly yanked in the middle of the inning by my manager. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done since to any ballplayer at any level, although I think Trey Hillman should’ve done it a few times last season to some of the Royals.
Shortly after my baseball debut my mother got up enough nerve to take me shopping with her. Thinking of these trips today still causes me to break into a cold sweat. If I let myself go there, I suffer flashbacks of trips to Montgomery Ward's or Penney’s or the most dreaded of all—Worth’s.
Worth’s was a women’s clothing store. There wasn’t anything even remotely interesting there. Nothing. No bank of television sets on which I could watch a baseball game. No cub scout regalia that could capture my attention like at Penney’s. No Hardy Boys books like at Woolworth’s. Not even a gumball machine that I had little chance of accessing. I don’t even remember being able to stare down a mannequin there. There had to have been female mannequins in that store, but perhaps I had been taught it would be impolite to stare at a woman. Worth’s possessed no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Worth’s was simply a cavern of misery—a dungeon of despair. The store, it seemed, only contained a sea of round dress racks. My only real memory of anything that happened at Worth’s was my mother finding me hiding under one of those numerous dress racks. Hopefully she gave me a good swatting for this, although a more formidable punishment would have been not to have ever let me leave. (Me: “Please momma, please don’t take me out of this wonderful store to spank me! Please let me stay hidden under these beautiful round dress racks while you shop for three more hours! Oh, Please Momma….”) Br’er Rabbit would have been proud.
Perhaps the most excruciating thing about shopping at Worth’s was that from there I could see, dimly in the distance like a mirage, Jerry’s Sport Shop. For a six-year-old boy at Truman Corner’s, Jerry’s Sport Shop was an island of paradise amidst a gauntlet of agony. And although the physical distance between Worth’s and Jerry’s was minimal, an expansive chasm lay between them. I later understood my angst better when reading the lyrics from the 1976 Kansas song “The Wall”: To pass beyond is what I seek, I fear that I may be too weak; And those are few who've seen it through to glimpse the other side; The promised land is waiting, like a maiden that is soon to be a bride….My promised land was Jerry’s, but like a maiden in a guarded castle I was trapped inside a suffocating mass of dress racks and blouses and…girls.
Kansas sang on: The moment is a masterpiece, the weight of indecision’s in the air…. Except there was no indecision and the moment was anything but a masterpiece. My mother had decided that I was not ready to set foot inside of Jerry’s Sport Shop. This was hard, because my brother had told me about the unspeakable wonder found inside Jerry’s. The aroma of fine cowhide leathers…the feel of finely grained pigskins...the bounce of pebble-grained basketballs. Exotic imports were found on every aisle—baseballs from Haiti, pine tar from Canada, wooden bats from a French town named Louisville. Brands like Wilson, Rawlings, and Spaulding were found at every turn. Converse Chuck Taylors were available in every size. Someone could make a fortune today by bottling the co-mingled scents from that store. It was the most amazing combination of rubber and leather and canvas imaginable. Impossible to replicate, the scent still burns in my nostrils today. I long for it. But there would be no Jerry’s for me in the early years. I had to grow up a bit and stop a few line drives in left field before I could go in the store and do some real shopping. And rightly so, as finally entering there was a rite of passage of sorts, and well worth the wait.
Truman Corners lives on in Grandview. It’s a shadow of its 1960’s grandeur. It’s grown old with me—redeveloped and “repositioned” as they say in the shopping center industry. The old stores are gone, and a new generation of “outparcels” now guard its entrances. The scent of steaks cooking on Ponderosa’s grill have been replaced by the scents of steaks cooking at Applebee’s and 54th Street. Woolworth’s and Woolco have long since faded into oblivion.
When we’re young we can’t move time fast enough and as we grow old it hurtles past us exponentially. If we manage to pause time long enough, we might reflect and see how many things we've taken for granted. I eventually grew up and my mother eventually grew old. I thought of her a few weeks ago as I drove by Truman Corners. She died in 2008, just a month or so before her 90th birthday. I miss her. Although I know God ordains every heartbeat, I wish we could have shared a few more years together. I wish she were here today and I wish we could make one last trip to Worth’s together. Not only would I not hide under the round racks, but I’d buy her a pretty dress. I’d stay there as long as she wanted. We’d linger, and maybe we’d go to Topsy’s for some cinnamon popcorn.
We would laugh and we might cry but through it all we would remember. I’d look only at her, not once looking past her to Jerry’s.