Two: Birmingham Alabama—In Alden Pebble Grain
Then I rounded the corner…
But before I begin this final round,
I want to offer this quote from TCD’s original email regarding Richards of
Mountain Brook…"Richards" took a high school freshman to his Dad's
world & instantly verified it was where you wanted to be even if it had not
occurred to you before".
“…instantly verified it was where
you wanted to be even if it had not
occurred to you before…” That’s a strong statement right there. Stronger
than new rope. Strong in some kind of teenage existentially ethereal, one
hundred percent cotton kinda way. Shut up.
But TCD, in response to part-one
of this story emailed me and reminded me that any trip to Richards usually
included a stop off at the drug store that’s anchored this little mercantile
patch since 1928. AS TCD described this place, it occurred to me that Gilchrist Drug is the J&J Drugs of my hometown. Butcept like everything in Florence
S.C. versus anywhere else ('cept maybe Tabor City N.C.), my hometown version
is a redneck-y, inelegant comparator.
At least 30% of my caloric intake
was courtesy of the J&J lunch counter during my days working at the
haberdashery just opposite the J&J. I would go over to the J&J on some Saturday
mornings before we opened the store, still capable of blowing a DUI I’m certain.
Bill Tassios would patch me up with the same unguent, my Saturday morning “rescue
usual” of two ham biscuits and a cup of coffee. I’d grab some breath mints and
toss it all back before cinching up my four-in-hand and easing into my Saturday
mercantile duties. Unfortunately, the photo above reveals what the J&J storefront looks like these days. Alas.
I’d say that for the first hour
or two my internal dialogue was really a flurry of foxhole prayers to Jesus.
“Lord, if you’ll make this hangover go away I’ll never get smashed on a Friday
night again”. But by eleven o’clock I’d be feeling better thanks to my J&J fix and on the phone to
my various cohorts, sorting out the Saturday night plan.
Oops, I digressed again. SoTCD told me that for him, the Gilchrist
Pimiento Cheese (yes, you Yankees, Pimiento Cheese is capitalized. It’s a
Southern thang that I’m not going to take time to ‘splain to you because you’ll
never get it. Suffice it to say that the cheese and the assemblage of it on two
pieces of toasted bread is sacred.) sandwich and a fresh squeezed right then
and there glass of their limeade was his standing order.
Here’s a quote from this article
that best sums up why TCD made sure I understood the significance of the
Gilchrist anchor… “Walk into Gilchrist, and you’re likely to see tables of
teenagers and college kids, mothers and daughters, grandparents and
great-grandparents — most of whom have been coming here all of their lives. Old
snapshots of long-time customers fill a display case. “That’s the neatest thing
about this place, is seeing somebody in their 70s come in here and talk about
how they used to sit at that very same stool,” (current owner) Rosato says.
“They grow up here in this community, and they grow up going to Gilchrist.””
Typical of my A.D.D. impertinent
country a_s, I stood right beside this hallowed sanctum sanctorum of samiches
and such and didn’t have a clue of its existence. Otherwise, I’d a had a little
bite of something to complement the sartorial rarefied air that I’d just
finished breathing two doors down.
So I’d finished my photo taking
reminiscent obligations to TCD and was headed back to the car.
Then I rounded the corner and noticed a little haberdashery called Harrison Ltd. My painfully
nostalgic self has long since resigned to the reality of TinTin’s “Not as good as it once was, better than it
will be” by-line. But every town used to
have a locally owned haberdashery and Harrison Ltd. is doing a damn fine job of
campaigning the Richard’s legacy.
A faint smell of leather hit me
when I walked in. Sort of a shoe repair shop olfactory déjà vu. The source was
a gaggle of Alden shoe boxes above my immediate right that let me know I wasn’t
in some kind of twee little attenuated J. Crew skinny jeans atelier. Shut up.
While this little oasis is trad
out the as_; rest assured that Harrison Ltd. ain’t no maudlin throwback to a
time now irrelevant. There’s a little bit of Mashburn folded into a good bit of
your daddy’s favorite old-time tradberdashery.
What Harrison Ltd. seems to do so
well is keep just enough of the immutable 3-Button patina spread ‘round ever so
lightly while offering fresh takes on it all. And I don’t know how to write
this in a way that you’ll understand what I’m trying to say but here goes…What
Harrison Ltd. does is something more nuanced than that worn-ass-out
hackneyed standard of “we take the classics and reinterpret them”. A monkey
could do that. Trust me; I was a
monkey at one time. Shut up.
So I’m standing there, doing
anything to keep from having to return from my errand running tasks and this
pebble grain thing gobsmacked me from the get-go. I ask for no sympathy when I
say that there’s never been a time in my life when I was less able to buy
anything nonessential. But I had some some cravings in this joint that warranted
the ultimate sale of a few caricatures and antique toy soldiers. I think it came out of me before
I even knew that I’d asked it. And the answer was yes, my size in these pebble
graingers just happened to be on hand.
I love my versatile penny loafers
but the Alden tassel mama is a step-up in the “if you could only have one shoe what would it be?” pantheon. Yep.
Weejuns are kinda like the Canterbury Shop to the Alden tassel’s Richard’s of
Mountain Brook. And of course since I’ve never owned an Alden tassel loafer in
my life, I figured it was my time.
Granted I shoulda paid the
freight for the shoes and cut outta there faster than a set of rims at a Puff
Daddy concert butcept I didn’t. They had some belts and of course since I’ve
never owned a belt, I figured it was my time. The Wiley Brothers Hoof Pick
contrivances and even my Sid Mashburn oyster shell buckled belt seemed clunky
and ham fisted compared to this gem.
Matte alligator. I’d never had
anything reptilian other than the shiny glazed stuff. So my first thought was
whether or not it was the real thing or one of those hydraulic ersatz stamped-stomped cowhide models. My first car, the MG Midget, was
worth about five hundred and fifty bucks when I said goodbye to it. So the
indicator of reptilian authenticity was an MSRP that was perilously close to
the goodbye value of my Midget.
it till you make it is remains part of my oeuvre but I can’t abide fake gator grained leather. The gator grain
stamping process reminds me of what has to be the high-heat, hydraulic event
that creates the undulating rib impressions on a McRib. As a Southerner and
hogavore, I believe the McRib to be a multipronged insult to a pig.
grill marks and rib impressions you are supposed to bite-through. Corrugated meat. Damn. We gnaw ribs
where I’m from. We don’t bite through them. Ok, so I had to sell more toy
At this point I figured that a knit tie to round my visit wouldn’t hurt. Most knit ties are too skinny and
frail looking for me. But like everything else in this little oasis, I could
have taken one of everything. And of course since I've never owned a tie, I figured one of these knit babies should be my first.
Scott Pyburn is the swizzle stick
that stirs this trad cocktail. And if I lived in Birmingham, he and I would
continue to visit and ideate on who could make me a pair of alligator tassel
loafers; one hundred percent faithful to the Alden classic on the Aberdeen
Oh, and if you spend an amount equal to the value of your first car, Scott will give you a t-shirt and baseball cap. And since I've never...