• Ode to CVS

    December 12, 2021

    Posted in: Other Ideas

    At some point in my later adulthood I came to realize what I thought of as my children’s precious childhood memories were actually my memories, of them. As they got older, I came to realize they remembered little of the details of family vacations, or the long museum treks we made them go on in the name of education. Those were my memories.

    Because we lived in multiple countries during the prime child raising years, those memories are spread out geographically, so we do not encounter refresher courses every Thanksgiving when we visit the old house. I can’t say if we’ll ever get back to some of those places (I can say for sure we will never organize the hundreds of paper photos we took that now reside in massive shipping boxes) so they really do now only exist in memory.

    Like CVS, the drugstore. Or rather one specific CVS, in Arlington, Virginia, near the apartment in for one year. That was where, alongside TV, my kids learned about America.

    Both kids had been born in Japan, and raised in Japan and the UK up to that pre-school point. This was pre-Internet, pre-megacable TV, pre-free international calls with Skype or its successors. The kids grew up with what was where they were, and even in England that meant very few bits of American pop culture, with what did sneak through filtered by British cartoons and TV. My daughter knew Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, and Blue Peter before she knew Mickey Mouse and Porky Pig. It was a very big deal when a VHS tape of some Disney movie arrived from the US. We probably could have found more American pop culture to expose them to, even in Japan back then, but instead just allowed things to happen as they did.

    So in 1993 my kids knew almost nothing about American culture. It was the near-daily visits to CVS that filled it all in. CVS would constantly redecorate for the next impending holiday. Christmas was a massive occasion of course, but they did the right thing for events like St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day as well. The candy aisle with its changing holiday theme was an important stop, and for awhile the kids knew the holidays more by color than name — the green holiday, the orange one, the pink one. CVS instructed them on what to buy outside of candy as well, so we had plastic pumpkins and cardboard turkeys and Pilgrims at home. In those less woke, politically correct times, much of all this was mirrored in my oldest daughter’s kindergarten classes and she felt right at home having her tutor at CVS help her keep up. The funny thing was that many of her classmates were from Central America, refugees from America’s warlets there, and were learning the text book versions of things like Fourth of July and MLK Day along with her.

    Alongside mother CVS was father TV. Since it was educational, the TV was usually on to PBS and they watched Arthur and Magic School Bus endlessly. Arthur then was sponsored by Juicy Juice, and the juice commercials were animated bits that flowed along with the main cartoon. One day in CVS my oldest child shouted “They have Juicy Juice!” as if she had just sighted land after months at sea. She had not understood the concept of “commercial” and just assumed those were less interesting parts of the show. The connection between advertising and what was on the CVS shelves was a major life event: you could buy that stuff.

    It was through this, and joining Girl Scouts, that my Japanese wife learned how a certain kind of American eats. She had never seen an open can of Spaghetti O’s, or a lunchables package, or made Hamburger Helper or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. But as each of these miracle products was advertised on Blue’s Clues, or eaten at a Girl Scout event, it moved into our kitchen, at least for one try. The biggest disaster was the Hamburger Helper in that my wife did not know she was supposed to add meat; she thought everything came in the box. Dumping all that meatless goop on hamburger buns to make Sloppy Joes did not make things better. Baloney, pork rinds, and sugared breakfast cereals were purchased, sniffed, and discarded. There was a lot to learn.

    I should have been a better father, or at least a more American father, but instead I relied on CVS as a surrogate. I remember, even if my kids do not, the simple pleasures of rediscovering those “American” things on each visit to CVS. Thanks.


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