If you are a habitué of the smoke shop or variety store, the scent is a mix of tobacco, sugary confections, newsprint and the dust of the day that blew in each time the door clanged open or closed.
Often, the tobacconist had a great big Export sign above the shop, a Scots lassie in a highland kilt against a field of green for the background. Hackers Variety was like that.
Liquorice gum is right up there in the pantheon of great productions. Sadly no more. I am still in therapy, but my shrink says there are a variety of new medications on the market, such as blackballs, twizzlers and all manner of confections to get my mind whirling like a Dervish. This was my childhood.
The go-to spot on King Street, as I said, was Hackers Variety. The diminutive Mrs. Hacker ruled this roost with all her curious and excitable charges visiting daily to this shrine to sucrose. All delights dispensed in a little brown bag and lorded over by, as I recall, Mrs. Hacker and another grey-haired lady of an indeterminate age. I should point out this was the school supply store.
Such kindness, such patience, they had, as we worked out how many sweets and would it be spearmint leaves, bananas, strawberries, black babies or liquorice gum. I had to resist the cigars and pipes knowing my weakness. Oh yes and I need an art gum eraser and a protractor set with that as well.
The question we have to ask is this: Did Hackers, the school-supply store, the picture of educational rectitude, each scribbler stacked in Hilroy blue, pink and green, every HB pencil just so, have comic books? Yes. Newspapers of the day for the grown-ups and comics for the kids. Smokes and schoolbooks. It was like that then. The sign said Export ....and School Supplies. No mixed messages here.
Discerning locals today still wonder if number-one son snuck a few comics upstairs along with his school assignments....look where he is now. I leave the reader to decide.
All those little Midland stores such as Hackers, Dyers, Kettles and others like them had the sound of the door opening and a little bell sounding that we all recognize with great fondness. We hear this bell, breathe these smells, our memory stirs and the narrow floorboards at Hackers, gum rubber erasers and liquorice combine with the melting strawberry on the tongue to bind us here, to this place and this time.
René Hackstetter July 5, 2020.