Sad to see Demas go
Updated: April 2, 2012 8:43AM
I am almost used to it. Our beloved neighborhood store, the legendary “Demas,” at Fourth and Linden, closed on Aug. 31. I don’t know what I was doing at the time, how I was so busy that I did not have a chance for a good-bye visit.
All of sudden, it was over, and I peeked in to see a cleared space. Everything was ... gone.
Of course, I was racked with guilt. Perhaps it was just that: I was too busy to make enough visits to keep the place going. At one time, I was a several-times-a-week visitor, and longer ago than that, I was probably a daily customer. What happened to my good patronage?
For 40 years, Demas was the port in the storm. The refuge in time of illness. The last-minute emergency visit. How many memories live in that spot. When we moved in, 40 years ago, I could wheel Wee Hughie in his buggy to grab a pound of the best ground beef for summer supper hamburger. So I hadn’t, as British housewives say, “christened dinner” ? Demas to the rescue!
And when there were more children, and my husband traveled, I had the luxury of delivery by Pat, a fixture, who ever and always called me “Mrs. Whxysz....” But he was always so kind, and we could have our scrambled eggs -- whatever -- that night.
Mary was another fixture. Mary had the same hairdo for almost 40 years, but she was the girl of my dreams. You talk about service: Mary’s middle name. There were days, and I know this is almost matter for confession at this point, when I would wake to find myself out of cigarettes, and yes, shaking. I would call Mary, put her on alert, and jump in the car still in my nightgown, come to a brief stop in front of the store, toot, and Mary would run out and throw a pack of Marlboros into the front seat. Ah, those golden days.
It was not all roses, however. Once, eager to impress my husband’s department with my culinary skills, I ordered a full rack of lamb. I shopped my feet off for those little pantaloons to adorn the chop tips: you know, like in the pictures. This was before Williams-Sonoma, before Cook’s Mart, and Martha Stewart was still into Campbell’s Soup.
Of course, I made the grand presentation, and began to cut the chops. No go. I went to the kitchen for a better knife. Even worse. Something wasn’t giving. I finally had to rip the meat from the rack. Did you ever think of the actual amount of meat on a lamb chop? Visualize my placing on each plate (and my best plates, to boot) a piece of meat that looked like it had been torn from the mouth of a very small dog. The only reason I remember that I didn’t get any lamb was that I clearly remember one of our guests offering me a piece of his. I had become a vegetarian by fire.
Then, how to get justice? If you remember Jim Gramatis, he was not a man with whom one fooled. In fact, years ago, in preparation for asking him to contribute a side of beef to our church auction, I toyed with the idea of a shot of vodka before entering the store. He gave the gift of beef, generously and gruffly. So. I rehearsed my complaint, unnecessarily so, for Jim acceded that he had neglected to cut through the base bone, or something, and I had another rack for our family, pantless, however.
There were some memorable visits to Demas. On July 13, l972, I was preparing a special birthday dinner for my husband. By this time, there were two little boys at our party. Everything was set. (Do women still do this?): The table, the babies shined up, and me in a lovely pink linen maternity dress (I repeat: Do women still do this?)
And then -- TOMATOES! His car was soon to pull in to the driveway. Just as I finished the salad, I realized my omission. I threw the boys in the car, dashed to Demas, and found a line all the way back to the butcher case. That in itself shows the passing of time and tide: It is hard to remember a line at Demas.
Some kind soul at the head of the line sensed my plight, offered to take my tomatoes and deliver them to the house. Can you imagine? And the next day, I delivered. A beautiful baby boy. It is all a treasure of a memory.
And now it is all gone. Even in the deeper sense. Mary retired, Pat got too sick to work, and then Jim died after a long, tough time. The darling Doreen took Mary’s place, and Jim’s wife, Annette, retired from school teaching and held the fort. Sometimes their lovely kids would fill in. After Jim, the meat department was not so fine, and I don’t know that the soup and sandwich business ever caught on. I think they tried coffee for a time, but Starbucks and Alchemy were tough competition.
They even tried greeting cards. Through the years, things just ... diminished. There were too many times when I couldn’t find that special ingredient -- the curry, the saffron -- and sometimes even simpler fare. The shelves looked unstocked: A neighbor once said it looked like a store in a Third World country, and I was almost personally offended. A few months after the store closed, Annette, of the black-velvet eyes and cheerful heart, died without warning.
It gave me the loneliest feeling to drive by in those first days. It was as if a little world had disappeared, and with it, all those memories of our life here in Wilmette. It reminded me of the sad day Lou Sotonoff closed his drugstore at Fourth and Linden. It reminded me of the trips with my mother and my mother-in-law to shop at Anne Hopkins dress shop at Fourth and Linden. It was a great shop for “the mature woman.” I would fit right in now. It reminded me of taking those little boys to John the Barber, and the delight of discovering that his brother gave my brothers their haircuts in Rogers Park in the l940s. It reminded me of the doughnut shop at Fourth and Linden, where, one day, miraculously, our little boy sat at the counter and read the menu. He could read!
And it reminded me of a very special day when I picked up my first (and I know, my last) mink coat at Keim’s. And I just remembered that sweet-faced Nancy at Linden Cleaners, who always found the tablecloth I was sure I had lost. And right in the nick of time.
So I thank God for the Barkemeyers and Linden True Value, stalwart merchants. And I salute Blair at Alchemy, who has become another port in a storm. And I have high hopes for the new food store which opens in Demas’ spot in the spring.
Here’s to good days ahead at Linden Square. Certainly the village and the community around it have tried revitalization. But I want to take a moment to memorialize Demas and the Gramatis Family, who served us so long and so well. They were a part of our Wilmette family, and they are missed.
Meat, and Marlboros and milk and memories: Our full and final gratitude, dear Jim and Annette!