Friday, August 9, 2013

Goodbye, Singing River (A Mississippi Mall Story)

http://www.wlox.com/story/23024317/gautier-mall-tenants-get-lease-termination-letters-to-move-out

Thirty-three year old Singing River Mall in Gautier, Mississippi prepares for demolition, where a 390,000 square foot open air mall will arise in its place. While this should bring in much-needed revenue to the small town, south Mississippi residents have mixed feelings about local businesses being evicted in favor of a new shopping center which will include yet another Walmart. I have a few feelings of my own, as this establishment provides a flood of memories of my childhood and beyond.


Singing River Mall was practically my second home. When I was a little girl, my mom, grandmother, and I would buy a Mary Ann's ice cream bar or a Dough Rollers giant cinnamon roll and "people watch" on the bench in front of Service Merchandise. We used to show up before the doors opened in the morning, and we didn't leave until it was closed at night. With people from all walks of life in the 1980s to be seen, rarely a dull moment ensued.

As a middle-schooler, I spent every weekend in Yesterdays game room, later known as Power Play. My favorite: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Donatello, if you're wondering). I remember being overwhelmed when redemption games were brought in, especially when they installed Ski Ball. I was terrible at Ski Ball, but I had fun trying. A few years later, I found myself working in that very arcade. It was surreal to be behind the scenes after being a loyal customer for so long. My brother was jealous, and I am still undisputed air hockey champ, thank you very much.


Shortly after leaving Power Play, I spent a week in Chick Fil A training. Nice people, but my puny arms weren't strong enough to handle their cooking equipment, so I had to quit. I eventually moved on to sell computers, appliances, and electronics at Cowboy Maloney's Electric City. It proved to be the biggest mistake of my life, but that's another story.

I befriended many of the store managers, studied health and alternative medicine at GNC on my lunch breaks, bought dozens of Beanie Babies at Coach House Gifts, saw epic movies at the theater, turned down dates and job offers, and power-walked the mall for exercise more times than I could ever guess. My last two relationships could be blamed on this place, since it's where I met them, and I gained a few pounds when La Fiesta Brava debuted down the hall from my job. It was my first experience with authentic Mexican food.


On a December evening, I had to be carried out of the building by co-workers when I collapsed after standing on my feet a little too long. I credit this incident, which followed a decade of symptoms and mistreatment, in finally receiving a diagnosis of systemic disease, including Familial Periodic Paralysis. I returned to work, but it was a struggle. My life was being redefined by this rare form of muscular dystrophy, and I eventually resigned and moved away.

When I heard that my favorite old stomping ground was meeting its doom, I made my way to Gautier for one last visit. With my trusty rolling walker in tow, I snapped a few photos and reflected on days gone by. The mall and I being almost the same age, we sort of grew up together. And as life has always been quick to inform, change happens whether you like it or not.


Yes, we had quite a history together - some good, bad, and ugly. While it's end is not a surprise thanks to the area's economic battles, it is bittersweet to see it erased and replaced. I guess you could say it's being redefined, and I certainly know a little something about that. To the friends I made, the jerks I met, the many things I learned, and the moments I won't forget at Singing River Mall...farewell.