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O.Henry Ending

I Watched Aliens from Another Planet Clean My Kitchen

A grandmother comes to her sensory senses

By Marianne Gingher

When Greensboro’s Friendly Center opened in 1957, I was 10 years old and my favorite store there was Woolworth’s. The heart of the store was the candy counter — a child’s dream — where you could buy orange jelly slices, little boxes of Goobers, Nik-L-Nips, candy corn, licorice whips, Sugar Daddies and chocolate-covered peanuts by the scoop. Brimming with the aromas of sizzling hotdogs twirling on skewers, popcorn, fountains of orange and lemon-flavored drinks bubbling down the sides of their glass containers, the store smelled nearly as delicious as the Greensboro Fairgrounds. There were other enticements: single-play records for 99 cents, gag gifts like Whoopie cushions and, in the back of the store fluttered blue and green parakeets in cages. Near the candy counter, I hovered over copies of The Weekly World News and National Enquirer with such memorable headlines as “Baby Born With Tattoo of Elvis” and “I Watched Aliens from Another Planet Clean My Kitchen.” After a trip to Woolworth’s, my imagination was stoked, my senses on overload.

Fast forward six decades. In the interval I became a writer, and I think now, in a weird way, Woolworth’s played a role in that. Remembering that famous five-and-dime’s delights got me thinking a lot about where kids today derive that sort of simple sensory pleasure and inspiration. My grandchildren, two wild boys ages 2 and 5, spent the summer with me while their family transitioned from Arizona back to North Carolina. My ransacked house bore no resemblance to its former self. I stepped on a piece of broccoli in my bathroom one night during their stay. I found the sprayer that attaches to the garden hose in the hall upstairs. They broke one of my kitchen chairs, flooded the upstairs bathroom and turned the AC thermostat to 50 degrees. It felt like I was living on a different planet. But I rose to physical challenges I never thought possible, danced to poopie songs, took them to every park and museum in Guilford County and witnessed delight on their little sunbeam faces as the carousel at Country Park revved up. I was exhausted but determined to hang on to the tilt-a-whirl of them until they headed off to the mothership.

Midway through their stay, when the 5 -year-old said he was bored, weary of the usual entertainments, I wished Woolworth’s still existed. But then a brainstorm hit.

“How would you like to help me wash the kitchen floor?” I asked. Nobody had ever given him such a fantastic opportunity.

His eyes widened. “Oh, yes!”

“Me, too!” hollered little brother.

Nothing glamorous or high-tech about that job, but both boys were thrilled with the adventure of it (and the spray bottle that came with the assignment). They’d discovered joy in a simple, sensory (and productive!) activity, far from the razzle-dazzle of commercial amusements. I stood on the threshold of the kitchen, watching them beaver away in their goofy way. It was happening before my very eyes: Two aliens from another planet were cleaning my kitchen!   OH

Marianne Gingher is an Earthbound writer living in Greensboro.