Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, March 11, 2012 | 3 a.m.
Grabbing a piece of the past on the way to the future.
I have spent considerable time this past week focusing on the future. Where are we going as a nation, as a community and as individuals? In an attempt to find answers, I have come away with just more questions.
Whether it is the action being considered against a potential nuclear Iran, an ongoing concern about the goodwill of Nevada’s political leadership as it considers the need to really and finally get serious about growing our state in all the right ways, or just how to enter the next and hopefully not final phase of one’s life and the contributions required for fulfillment, that kind of thinking, well, hurts.
In the midst of all this contemplative concern about the meaning of life came the news that White Cross Drugs was closing, and, frankly, my mind was hurtled backward to a far more simple time.
There aren’t many people in Las Vegas today who remember when White Cross opened its doors at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard South and Oakey. I do. I was a very young boy when Market Town (that is what they called the shopping center) opened in what seemed like the southern outskirts of a young and growing Las Vegas. Farther south was the El Rancho Vegas, Smiley Washburn’s Last Frontier Village and, way down the Strip, the Flamingo. There were a few other places, of course, but not many.
I remember White Cross for a few reasons. The shopping center was one of my father’s early ventures — like many opportunities in those days, he kind of backed into it — so we did all we could to make sure it was successful. That meant doing as much business with the store owners as we could and encouraging friends and family to do the same.
Besides the grocery store, Market Town, there was the barbershop around the corner. It was one of those places that had a barber poll affixed to the side of the building, which left no doubt that there was the place a young boy could get his first haircut — at least the first one he could remember. What I remember is that it was called a “little boy’s haircut” and it came with all the fanfare a few bits could buy, complete with the adoring eyes of an overly proud father — proud of what, I don’t know.
After the haircut, of course, came the real reward. It was a cheeseburger and a hot fudge sundae at the counter of the White Cross Drugs store, which was at the other end of the shopping center. That gave us an excuse, I now realize, to walk past and stop in every store along the way. It became a ritual.
It was Dad and me and the counter at White Cross. Life was good. Life was simple. And life was easy. At least that was life through the eyes of a little boy.
Of course, if you had looked at it through the eyes of the dads in Las Vegas, there were questions about world survival prompted by the daily stories of the Cold War clashes between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Those concerns started and ended with the prospect of nuclear annihilation. Why else would we climb under our desks at school every few weeks in some kind of drill designed to protect us when the big one hit?
Had we asked them at that time, our parents would have been very concerned about the effect on our national psyche and individual rights caused by the rantings of men like Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy, who played on our national fears of Communism and the social destruction caused by any kind of “deviant” behavior. They would have explained their disgust at the cowardice of national and state political leaders to speak out against what everyone knew was wrong.
They would have also told you, if asked, about their overarching fears about the economic situation at the time — this caused by a very young town trying to figure out how to grow against the impact of outside mob influences threatening to take us in a direction not conducive to raising a family — and how they were going to manage through that challenge.
That’s what our parents would have focused on. What a young boy would have paid attention to was the counter at White Cross, the great food one could get and the good feelings that a father-son day out could create.
So, when I heard the news of White Cross Drugs being closed after a lifetime of warm and fuzzy feelings about it, I was genuinely saddened because that store represented a far more simple, less confusing and far less difficult time in my life.
We all have our White Cross drug stores, those times and those places in our lives that made us feel safe, cared for and comfortable. If we are doing this thing right, we have created similar places for our children and then, if we are lucky, our grandchildren.
That is the way it is supposed to be. But that doesn’t make it any easier for those of us who accept the challenge of trying to find the big answers to the big questions of our time. And while there are many adults who prefer to live back in their White Cross Drugs days — which means they prefer to let others solve their problems — the fact remains that parents must be parents so children can obtain memories to carry them through what will be their challenging times.
That brings me back to where I started.
I am sorry that White Cross Drugs is closing. A sweet chapter of my life is closing with it. For my generation, though, it is time, finally, to be adults, to act like adults and to make the decisions that will allow the next generations of Americans to cherish the memories of their own White Cross Drugs when it is their turn.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.