While out for a coffee recently with a church buddy, time stopped for me.
At the other end of the coffee shop were two large tables, and seated around them in many chairs were men of my generation, leaning back relaxed, coffee in hands and smiles on their faces.
I could barely hear their conversation, but in my mind’s eye I was transported back some 60 years or so to the general store in Wanstead, a once flourish village east of Wyoming that’s regarded today as a ghost town.
My Grandpa Tait (Victor) raised his family on land at the corner of Wanstead and Confederation Roads. One beautiful fall day, Grandpa Tait took me with him to the general store to get some “mints for the kids.”
When we entered the store, I noticed a pot-bellied stove with four men sitting on small overturned barrels and wooden stools, puffing away on cigars, “shooting the breeze” about anything and everything.
Grandpa got a full paper bag of “mints for the kids” and, wonder-of-wonders, another bag with five mints in it just for me, if I could be quiet while he visited with his friends. For five mints, I could be quiet.
It’s a memory that has stuck with me: Grandpa being welcomed by his circle of friends, puffing on his White Owls, sitting relaxed on a barrel and joining in on the discussion.
I spent my time quietly wandering round the store, gazing in wonder at the masses of different candy under the counter, the horse harnesses hanging on posts, the mysterious tiny drawers that covered a whole wall behind the clerk.
One corner was blocked off for the post office, where the postmistress reigned and the names of the residents were written under each open cubbyhole. The floors, originally painted white, were worn bare by the tread of countless boots. The whole store was so warm and welcoming that it beckoned you to sit and “shoot the breeze” by the stove.
Eventually, Grandpa and Grandma left Wanstead and moved to Davis Street in Sarnia, where Grandpa would continue to wander off to the barbershop for a haircut.
He had no hair to speak of, but I realize now what he really needed was that chat-round-the-stove feel of the old Wanstead general store.
Which is why I found the flashback at Tim’s so compelling. Coffee shops have become the general stores of our world, the place we go to visit friends over a cup of coffee.
For just a moment, I was back at that general store and those men sitting round the pot-bellied stove and shooting the breeze.