I am glad to have been born in the mid-20th Century. I'm just saying that right up front. My grandparents, born in the NINETEENTH CENTURY DAMN AIN'T THAT SOMETHING!, and my parents, born in the 1920's, gave me a strong sense of history not only through their stories of the past, but in the old things that were still around; family antiques brought over from Scotland, a few toys of my dad's from when he was very small, his WWII uniform, bizarre old farm tools,a huge walnut radio form the '30s, old cracked photographs of men with large and dubious mustaches, one of my grandmother looking so fresh and young and beautiful. Having always had older people around me, the more distant past was always part of my daily experience, and not at all abstract.

I was born in the Jet Age, The Age Of Consumerism, past the Industrial Revolution into postwar boom times. My grandfather's horse-and-buggy linked to my father's tiny 50s MG linked to my Acura RDX, which speaks to me in a pleasant female voice: "Now calculating route." I have seen the last remnants of the agricultural society fade and die, land sold to corporate farms or developers. I have seen whole small towns die off, as the young people leave for the cities and work while the old people stay in whitewashed frame houses with wide porches, curtains closed, attending funerals and visiting doctors at the clinic. I have seen science fiction come to life, then become the norm. I feel like I have been alive far past my age, but cannot cast out a day ahead. No one can.

I lived twelve years of my life in a minuscule South-central Wisconsin town of around 300 people, spanning the 70s to the early 80s. Absurdly enough, the town was split, legally, into "New" and an "Old" parts; I lived in New; Old was about a mile down the road. THE road I should say; there was only one that went through of any size, and not a stop light or stop sign on it. In the Old part of town, was Neitzel's Store. If you are not from Wisconsin or German, let me assist you: pronounced NIGHT-ZLS. Now even to me, even then, this was a place frozen in time. I kid you not: it was pretty much exactly like Ike's General Store on "The Waltons." Our Ike was, of course, Mr. Neitzel, who was quiet but always smiling and friendly, thin, balding with dark hair left on the sides of his head, and he always wore a work apron.

The building even looked old to me, and it surely was, probably one of the first built in the area sometime in the mid- to late-1800s. It was a frame building, tall and flat, with a few steep concrete stairs leading to the door with a bell on it. Memory begins to fail me a bit here; it was painted in a dark color, but I don't know if it was maroon or forest green or something else, and I am not sure if it had an awning or not. Inside, were shelves on the perimeter walls that went all the way up to the high ceilings, stocked with cans of food. If you wanted something higher than you could reach, you would have to ask Mr. Neitzel, who would either grab it with a long pole, or he would climb a ladder. Also, if you handed him your grocery list, he would get everything for you and bring it to the register. This is the way it used to be done; so so far away from the Sentry Supermarket seven miles away.

For most of the years we lived in that town, my family was pretty poor. Bill collectors would call on and off, and we were instructed not to answer the phone. Letters with FINAL NOTICE - PAY IMMEDIATELY written on them would come in the mail from Sears and Penney's, and the worst, Household Finance. We weren't the worst off in my town, that was for sure, but there were times where there really truly wasn't a dime left, and no dimes coming in very soon.We didn't do our regular shopping at Neitzel's because it was both too small to get everything we needed, and a bit more expensive than the big chain stores.

I can remember my mom sending me over to Neitzel's one day, with a small list that included toilet paper, a bag of rice, a couple pounds of hamburger, and a can of corn. She told me to ask that Mr. Neitzel "put it on account." Now, I had an idea of this concept, having seen my dad run bar tabs. But at a grocery store? Why would Mr. Neitzel do that, I wondered, they certainly didn't let you do that at the Sentry. My mom explained that it was OK, that Mr. Neitzel was a good man, knew we would repay him as soon as we could. When I think back on it now, knowing the pride my parents had in not taking any money or charity, my mom must've been desperate. Not even the money to buy damn toilet paper. So I pedaled my bike over there, gave Mr. Neitzel my list rather sheepishly, and he smiled at me as always, found and bagged my items, and wished me a good day and to be careful riding on the main road because of the big trucks. He never asked for money, and treated me no differently.

About ten or so years later, another one of those moments in life that you could never predict because of its total unlikeliness and absurdity occurred when I found myself, now in my 20s, sitting next to my dad, who was driving his brand-new Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible. It was a bright bright red with white leather upholstery and cost more that my first house did. "The best," my dad said, "This is the best made in the world." I felt conflicted sitting there; it was indeed a grand car and most interesting and it was his money to spend as he wished, but it felt like just a colossal waste and so desperate. Who was he trying to impress, driving through these depressed little farm towns in that car? Is that what success was supposed to be about?

He took me for a spin through the countryside in the Rolls, and we ended up driving past Neitzel's. There was a sign on the front door: CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. THANK YOU, FRIENDS. Did the times finally catch up with Mr. Neitzel, did he simply just retire, could he not make a living there now? My dad rattled on about his car as I stared at the store, and I felt very sad, although not exactly sure why. Perhaps it was just that this strange little remnant of days gone was finally shuttered, perhaps a sense of time passing, of two very different men living in the same tiny town and how they ended up, and perhaps the cruel, worthless concept of fairness.

I am sure my mother paid Mr. Neitzel back every penny she owed him, and I am sure he never charged her a penny of interest.