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Front Porch: Kmart remembered for family time, subs and blue light specials

The zebra-striped short spring jacket shamed me from the closet.

I hadn’t worn it once in the last two years, so as per my policy, it was time to send it off to Goodwill.

But first I shrugged it on. I’m not going to lie. It’s a cute coat. It’s also one of the last things my mom bought for me while she still enjoyed shopping.

How long have I had it? Well, she purchased it at Kmart in Spokane Valley, a few years before it closed in 2019. She bought herself one, too. One of us was never a fan of “dressing your age.”

Mom had three hobbies, reading, sewing and shopping. I inherited her love of the first, but prolonged exposure to the others only led me to develop a strong antipathy to both.

No matter. Mom loved nothing more than shopping for others. One of her favorite haunts was Kmart. It’s no coincidence that when we moved to North Spokane when I was 16, the store was within easy walking distance of our house.

Even prior to moving nearby, Kmart was a family fixture.

Who can forget the excitement of the blue light special!? Even better if that blue light flashed from the deli.

Long before there was a Subway on every corner, the Kmart deli introduced us to submarine sandwiches. The plastic-wrapped subs featured ham, bologna, salami and American cheese. Topped with thinly sliced tomatoes, a couple of pickle slices and tons of shredded lettuce, these were a real treat because our family didn’t frequent fast food restaurants.

Actually, I preferred the ham sandwiches. Cooked ham, mayo and shredded lettuce on a fluffy white hamburger bun. Yum!

Of course, Mom was there for the bargains. Any kid growing up in the ‘70s likely had a pair of moon boots from Kmart and, probably a pair of knock-off Keds. The white canvas shoes were worn by generations of women and children. Mom still has several pairs of those slip-on shoes in her closet.

By the time I was a teen, I rebelled against any item of clothing purchased at the store. The final straw was when Mom bought me a puffy navy blue parka with a hood. I was 14. I knew a puffy parka with a hood in a BOY color was social suicide.

“It’s Kmart Fall Apart!” I wailed. “I will never leave this house in that coat!”

Sadly, I did leave the house in that coat, but I took it off as soon as I reached the end of the driveway.

Flash forward a few years. I’m an at-home mom with three boys under 5. My now-retired dad would pick Ethan, 4, and Alex, 2, up on Tuesday mornings while baby Zach and I stayed home.

He’d drop Mom off at Bible study, deliver Ethan to preschool, and then he and Alex would head to Kmart. Alex got a spin (or two) on the merry-go-round at the entrance, and then they’d head to the deli, where Dad sipped coffee and Alex munched a big chocolate chip cookie.

Dad died weeks before Alex’s third birthday, but I hope somehow he still remembers his special dates with Papa Tom.

Mom took over dates with her grandsons. She didn’t drive, but she’d pack whichever boy was visiting in an umbrella stroller and set off in search of a blue light special. When they outgrew the stroller, they walked with her, confident they’d get a treat or a new toy when they got to the store.

She doesn’t shop anymore. Alzheimer’s-induced anxiety makes outings stressful, but at 92, she knows all my sons by name and often tells stories about their Kmart adventures.

Who knew so many memories could be triggered by a lightweight zebra-striped jacket with a Jaclyn Smith label?

I pulled it from the donate bag and hung it back in my closet.

There’s no shame in holding onto memories. Especially, when you can touch them and feel once again, the warmth of your mother’s love.

Cindy Hval can be reached at Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available at Auntie’s Bookstore and bookstores nationwide.

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