Our favorite store was Rose's Five & Ten. I can trace each phase of my childhood by walking down
the aisles of Rose’s Five & Ten.

Starting at the far end of the store, preschool toys lined the shelves. There were blocks, Teddy
Bears, and other dolls, like Mickey Mouse, Raggedy Anne, and Zippy the Chimp.

Remember See & Says? When we got a little older, we liked to pull the strings on a dozen See &
Says at the same time, after pointing each arrow to a different animal, producing a din of
This is
a duck, the duck says Quack Quack! This is a cow…Mooooo! Oink, Oink! This is a…Meow! The dog

And what do they call those clear plastic domes on wheels that you push with a stick, like a
Bissell carpet sweeper, and when you roll it, those multi-colored balls clatter around inside the
dome like popcorn? I’ve seen those things all my life and I still don’t know what to call them.

The next aisle featured marbles, rubber balls, tinker toys, LEGOS, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads. This
was back in the day when Mr. Potato Head, besides sporting a derby hat, mustache, and
eyeglasses, also smoked a pipe. Nobody thought it strange at the time. The toy makers later
removed the pipe when Mrs. Potato Head expressed concerns about second hand smoke.

Around the next corner were toy guns and play kitchens, followed by BB guns and Easy-Bake
ovens. Somewhere after that were plastic model kits of cars, airplanes, ships, monsters, and the
Visible Man, which had transparent skin so you could see the muscles, vital organs, and skeleton

The sports equipment aisle had everything from barbells to badminton, and naturally included
baseballs, bats, footballs, basketballs, and Frisbees, which, in 1967, began to appear in a
psychedelic array of day-glow colors.

The closer you got to the front of Rose’s, the more grownup the merchandise. This was probably
a deliberate set-up, to instill wants and expectations in the younger children, who accompanied
their parents to the kiddy merchandise.

The thing I remember most about Rose’s is a display table near the cash registers at the front of
the store. The items on this table were divided, more or less, into boy and girl sections. On one
side, pocket knives, wallets, and stopwatches; on the other side, sewing kits, small purses, and
heart-shaped watches. The stationary was right in the middle. Pens of different colored ink,
writing pads, rulers and protractors, pencils & pencil sharpeners, and there, whispering my name,
right on the edge of the sissy stuff, those singular locking diaries with the little keyhole on the

The locking diary. A leather strap, attached to the back cover, wraps around to the front and
latches, like a seat belt, into a flat metal square with a keyhole in the center. The strap holds
your journal shut unless you have the key. They came in Navy blue, cherry blossom pink, forest
green, and Highlands plaid.

I didn’t buy a diary right away. There was a vague attitude among my friends and my parents that
the diary was a girl’s item, but I wasn’t sure why. Maybe because of its placement on the table?

One of my first purchases from the display table was a Swiss Army pocket knife. There were
several models to choose from. Mine had two sharp blades (large and small), two small
screwdrivers (flathead and phillips), bottle opener, can opener, hole punch, and scissors. My
friends and I thought those knives were the greatest, coolest thing! Everybody had to have a
pocket knife.
The fictional town of "Hansburg" is based on my hometown, Christiansburg, VA, which was known as
"Hans Meadow" in the 1700s. Black & White photos are from the D. D. Lester Collection.
Leather wallets were another popular item. My circle of friends each got a different knife and a
different wallet, so we could compare them and be different and yet the same.

The wallets had a secret compartment flap in the billfold section. That appeased my penchant for
mystery & intrigue at first. Then I learned other ways I could be different and yet the same.

While my friends started buying magazines like
Sports Illustrated or Popular Mechanics, I
gravitated toward
Famous Monsters of Filmland.
I came to understand that the editor of
Famous Monsters magazine, Forrest J. Ackerman, had also
been a literary agent for Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and others. This legitimized my interest in
writing and documenting weird things. I bought a green diary.

If my friends said, “Those diaries are for girls,” I could say, “Look, I’m writing some original science
fiction and I don’t want anyone to steal my ideas. I’ve got to keep my manuscript under lock and

The thing is, I didn’t actually use the diary until much later. By the time I finally bought the thing, I
was too restless to sit still and write. When I did manage to be still, it was to put on headphones, lie
on my bed, and listen at loud volume to Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and Cream.

A new music store, Rock City Records & Tapes, opened right next door to Rose’s, with a much
wider selection of music, and you could listen to records before you bought them. The proprietor of
Rock City, Meg Longino, was hip to the music scene and told us intriguing back-stories, like how
Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett blew his mind on LSD, or the fact that Frank Zappa produced Captain
Trout Mask Replica album after the two avant-garde musicians supposedly met in a

Several years passed before I filled the pages of my green locking diary with the diagrams and
ruminations that landed me in a mental institution.
On weekends, we kids would walk from our small suburban neighborhood to the "downtown"
part of Hansburg.

Main Street bustled with activity on Saturdays. Cars and trucks cruised slowly up and down the
street, looking for a place to park, or stopping to let other vehicles back out from their diagonal
slots. Pedestrians of all ages mingled, shopped, strolled, went to the movies, and conducted

We had favorite places to go, down one side of the street and up the other. The first stop on
the right was the Palace Movie Theatre. We looked at the posters to see the coming attractions.

This is where I saw so many of those Hammer horror films, the sexier and more bloody color
remakes of the more subtle black & white classics, usually starring Christopher Lee, Peter
Cushing, Veronica Carlson, or Barbara Shelley. Also, those Roger Corman “B” movies with titles
taken from the works of Edgar Allen Poe – The Oblong Box, The Raven, Masque of the Red
Death – which almost always starred Vincent Price and almost never had anything to do with the
Poe stories for which they were named.

James Bond movies. Shapely girl silhouettes swimming languidly through the opening credits,
the hidden spy gadgets and secret compartments in the attaché case that Bond carried in From
Russia With Love, and more gadgets in the Aston Martin sports car from Goldfinger, my all-time
It was time to think up the first two clues. The protocol was to phone in the first clue to Jeff. He
and his team, Donnie and Lee, then walked downtown and searched for the second clue in front
of the Palace Theatre.

In addition to the big movie posters on either side of the theatre entrance, there were always 8″
X 10″ pictures on display, called lobby cards, which showed scenes from whatever movie was
playing. These pictures were in metal frames, protected by Plexiglas. We could slide a lobby
card halfway out of the frame, write the clue lightly in pencil on the back of the picture, and slide
it back in.

The girl sitting in the ticket booth was accustomed to our shenanigans. She just rolled her eyes,
popped her gum, and went back to reading a magazine.

Today’s feature at the Palace Theatre was Horror of Dracula.

I perused the lobby cards and settled on a picture of Peter Cushing as the vampire fighter, Van
Helsing, driving a stake into the heart of a young female vampire as she awakened in her coffin,
wide-eyed and screaming. Cushing’s face was grim but firm with duty, holding the spike between
the vampire’s breasts as he hammered it into her chest, a trickle of red blood showing through
her frilly white nightgown.
Except from Chapter 5 of Tamper by Bill Ectric