when i was a child, my parents owned a store in clarksville, iowa, called "in pots and print," where my mom sold a combination of plants and old books. when they closed the store, my parents kept the wooden sign that hung from the window and a bunch of leftover brown paper bookmarks that advertised the shop. some thirty years later, the bookmarks still turn up occasionally, tucked between pages in novels on my shelf, marking places that are no longer relevant. i flip them over and find half-finished to do lists from the 1970s on the back, scribbled in my mother’s handwriting.
i remember in pots and print as a bit dark and musty and smelling of soil. my mom’s green thumb was apparent, and the store was crowded with life. she sold sensitive plants that closed to the touch, and i couldn't resist running my little finger along their leaves to watch them respond. ferns were a particular speciality and their leaves cascaded over their pots like wild, frizzy haircuts or spiders stretching their long legs toward the floor.
my mom played national public radio on a small transistor that sat on a shelf in the front of the shop, and the voices of the announcers were muffled and distant. at a very young age i learned to recognize the melody that introduces the news program "all things considered." i didn’t listen carefully to the strangers’ words but the background drone was comforting.
the store had a small back room, where my brother raleigh and i played as toddlers. he was two; i was four. i read to him out loud from books we kept there in an apple crate, turned on its side into a makeshift bookshelf: hop on pop by dr seuss. green eggs and ham. richard scarry’s cars and trucks and things that go. raleigh sat beside me, his chubby legs crossed indian-style, hanging on to my every word. my mom used a cassette player to record us together. i played the tapes back later, hearing my mother announce the date before my little voice came in, slowly reading words in stilted, childish tones.
mom made us ketchup sandwiches for lunch. we asked her to fold the white bread over instead of cutting it in half, so we could bite through the fold and squish the ketchup through the semicircle bite-mark.
we played in the alley behind the shop, collecting rocks in an old metal cigar box. our clothes and knees got covered in dirt. we wore blue-and-white striped marimekko t-shirts with jean shorts, osh kosh b’gosh overalls, and shirts adorned with popeye the sailor man. we had matching brown leather sandals. the neighbourhood kids, tougher and older, joined us in the alleyway and taught us their games, changing the rules as we played to ensure they were always victorious. one of them, robert ackerman, laughed at raleigh and told him sandals were for girls.